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Child dies from infected rat; family sues Petco

SAN DIEGO (AP) -- A San Diego family is suing Petco after the death of their 10-year-old son from a bacterial infection they say he contracted from his pet rat.

Attorney John Gomez told The Associated Press on Tuesday that his firm filed the lawsuit Monday in San Diego County seeking an unspecified amount for the suffering endured by the Pankey family, whose son, , died June 12, 2013, hours after he was rushed to the hospital with severe stomach pains.

The San Diego County Medical Examiner's Office ruled that the cause of death was streptobacillus moniliformis infection, commonly known as rat-bite fever, after exposure to an infected rat.

The retailer in a statement expressed its condolences.

"We are deeply saddened by the Pankey family's tragic loss," Petco said in a statement. "The health and safety of people and pets is always a top priority, and we take the family's concerns very seriously."

The boy's grandmother purchased the male rat, which Aidan named Alex, because her only grandson wanted a mate for his female pet rat, Gomez said. The boy took the rat home May 27, 2012, and woke up the night of June 11 in severe pain with a fever and stomach problems. He was pale, lethargic and could barely walk, according to the lawsuit. He died at 1:09 a.m. the next day.

"He was a bright, energetic, friendly, happy kid who actually had a prior rat, who was a female, and he had this idea in his young head of having his female rat get married," Gomez said.

The lawsuit was not filed until now because attorneys were awaiting the lab results from the federal Centers for Disease Control, which tested the rat to confirm it was infected, Gomez said. The agency could not immediately confirm the results Tuesday.

Gomez said the Pankey family was not giving interviews, but they are devastated by the death of their only son and want to raise awareness among parents.

"It's a means to ensure this doesn't happen again," Gomez said of the lawsuit. "Apparently there was some breakdown in procedures. They want tighter controls."

According to the lawsuit, the rat appeared safe. But the lawsuit says Petco should have known about the rodent's health and did not adequately test for the disease. It also says that negligence led to the boy's death, which has caused his parents, Andrew Pankey and Vanessa Sauer, emotional and economic hardship, and that the retailer did not post adequate warnings about the potential risks, especially for children.

Petco Animal Supplies Inc. said it is "in the process of investigating these claims and will respond appropriately when we have more information."

According to the CDC, people can contract rat-bite fever from bites or scratches from infected rodents, such as rats, mice and gerbils, or even just by handling an animal with the disease without a bite or scratch. It can also be contracted by consuming food or drink contaminated with the bacteria. It is not spread from person to person.

Antibiotics, such as penicillin, are highly effective at treating rat-bite fever, and it is rarely fatal, according to the CDC.

The CDC says those at higher risk of contracting the illness are people with pet rats or who work with rats in laboratories or pet stores, or live in rat-infested buildings. The agency recommends that people who handle rats or clean their cages wear protective gloves, wash their hands regularly and avoid touching their mouths with their hands after being in contact with rodents.

Petco also mentions preventative measures for rat-bite fever in information it posts online and provides in stores. The company warns that all rats are potential carriers and that pregnant women, children under the age of five and people with weakened immune systems should contact their doctor before buying a rat and "should consider not having a rat as a pet."

Only about 200 cases of rat-bite fever had been documented in the United States as of 2004, according to the Center for Food Security and Public Health at Iowa State University. Scientists believe the disease may be underdiagnosed because it is hard to detect and responds to commonly used antibiotics. But the number of cases, they say, may be increasing, especially among children, with the growing popularity of rats as pets.


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cathiehrdy February 25 2014 at 11:50 PM

I want to know what the kid did to cause the rat to bite him in the first place. I had pet rats for many years, plus I worked in a pet shop that sold rats. I have never, and I do mean never, been bitten by one.

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2 replies
cKrip Killa cathiehrdy February 25 2014 at 11:55 PM

It actually says in the post that it could take just scratches or even just handling an infected rat could lead to the disease.

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almasearch cathiehrdy February 25 2014 at 11:58 PM

The child may not have necessarily been bitten. From the article: ".... According to the CDC, people can contract rat-bite fever from bites or scratches from infected rodents, such as rats, mice and gerbils, or even just by handling an animal with the disease WITHOUT a bite or scratch. It can also be contracted by consuming food or drink contaminated with the bacteria....."

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lunarstruck February 26 2014 at 1:54 AM

Shouldn't they be suing the hospital where he was misdiagnosed instead? Owning pets comes with assumed risks such as this, shame on them for suing Petco for something they should have read about and known about before buying any pet.

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coilrubbinm4mfun February 26 2014 at 12:54 AM

rats are horrad things they eat there own babies yeck

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pepprgrl February 26 2014 at 2:55 AM

and, for the record rats, rodents make amazing pets. so intelligent. nothing yuck about them. such ignorance.

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stevebewley February 26 2014 at 3:08 AM

Here the "burden of proof" lies with the family. Unless the boy got the rat and died in the store, they really don't have a chance unless a jury decides in their favor.

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1 reply
cardiacbuzz stevebewley February 26 2014 at 3:38 AM

I agree; since the boy had the rat slightly over a year, PETCO's defense will most likely argue there's no telling what other contact the boy or the rat could've made outside the store causing him to contract the disease.
The family will have to prove the pet rat was a carrier and had the disease before it was taken from the store [a year earlier] and like you said, that's one for the jury.

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Christen February 26 2014 at 12:32 AM

It is sad what happened to this little boy but i am confused here. It is sad the grandmother purchased the rat and it was taken home 2012. Then says he woke up June 11 with pains and died the next day. The beginning says the boy died in 2013 so if he had the Rat for over a year it is not petco's fault. Small Rodents they are great pets to have really i have a pet mouse myself. Sadly though if they are sick they show no signs of it until it is too late. Sometimes people do research before they purchase the animal. If you request it they will have the Rat checked over or you can take it to the vet yourself to have it checked. I feel sorry they lost their child but it is not Petco's fault things like this happen

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clarkkentdlyplnt February 26 2014 at 4:00 AM

The moral of this story is,"Don't own rodents that caused the plague"

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1 reply
hpycmpr155 clarkkentdlyplnt February 26 2014 at 6:39 AM

No,,,it was the fleas ON the rodents that causd the plague,
Do your homework.

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cosmeticpen February 26 2014 at 1:42 AM

this is very sad. I had rats bite me in the past. I guess this was just and unlucky pet. Petco should have known better then to have animals infected with disease and not warning customers about the dangers of owning a rodent. I think they got a good case. It sad they lost there son.. What is sadder her in America. Money makes people happy it seems.. Your son dies.. Here is a load of money to make you happier.

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valgaavmiko February 26 2014 at 12:20 AM

First of all, this family had the rat for over a year. How can you possibly blame any illness on a company at that point. Second, if you are too lazy to research an animal before you purchase it and rely on a pet store employee to tell you absolutely everything, that is your own fault. Third, the rats Petco sells are FEEDER RATS. Some people purchase them as pets and that's peachy, but they are first and foremost food for other animals. No, rats do not have to be tested for this bacteria because infection is rare. If every rat was tested before it was sold, you'd be paying a lot more money.

This is like suing the animal shelter because the dog you adopted a year ago licked your face and gave you staph infection. Oh the shelter didn't warn you about possible staph infections? SUE THEM!

This lawsuit is absolutely ridiculous.

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Elizabeth February 26 2014 at 4:02 AM

When one gets a new dog, cat or horse, one normally has the animal vetted. Do people not do this with other pets?

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