One hundred New Yorkers are bitten by rats every year. Clearly, that’s 100 too many. But mercifully, rat bites are down this year — only 29 people have reported being attacked by rats so far in 2011. Have the rats become complacent, or have humans simply developed better defenses? The only thing we know for sure is that you don’t want to get bitten by a rat. Two words (or perhaps three): rat-bite fever.
Yes, rat-bite fever. Unfortunately, it exists and it’s not pretty. Here’s what the CDC has to say about RBF (there are two kinds):
Symptoms and signs of streptobacillary RBF include:
Symptoms usually occur 3-10 days after exposure to an infected rodent, but can be delayed as long as 3 weeks. By this time, any associated bite or scratch wound has usually healed.
Within 2-4 days after fever onset, a maculopapular rash may appear on the hands and feet. This rash is identified by flat, reddened areas with small bumps. One or more joints may then become swollen, red, or painful.
Symptoms and signs of spirillary RBF (also known as sodoku) can vary and often include:
Fever (that may occur repeatedly)
Development of an ulcer at the bite wound (when applicable)
Swelling near the wound
Swollen lymph nodes
Rash (occurs following partial healing of the wound)
These symptoms usually occur 7-21 days after exposure to an infected rodent.
There’s also the chance of bubonic plague. Psych! You won’t contract the Black Death from a NYC rat. It’s more likely that you’ll get tetanus (seriously). So carry on with your day, don’t worry about it, don’t approach any rats, and whatever you do, don’t Google image search “rat bite fever.”
Update: A terrifying story from Web Editor Francesca Stabile: “My friend was waiting for the subway and there was a girl like 5 feet away from her wearing all white. Very proper looking UES type. So the train comes, and my friend hears a squelch noise, and then a scream, and she looks over and the girl is covered head to toe in blood. All over her face and stuff. BECAUSE THERE WAS A DEAD RAT ON THE TRACKS AND THE SUBWAY RAN OVER IT. AND IT GOT IN HER MOUTH AND HER EYEBALLS.” Happy Monday!
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on August 8, 2011