The family of Aidan Pankey is claiming that Petco is responsible for his death after the 10-year old died of rat-bite fever. Aidan died on June 12 after contracting the infection from the pet rat his grandmother had given to him and was purchased at Petco. The family’s lawyer, John Gomez, said that the family had never heard of rat-bite fever and filed a lawsuit on Monday to raise awareness to other parents. “It’s a means to ensure this doesn’t happen again,” he said of the lawsuit.
Aidan’s grandmother, Sharon Pankey, bought the infected rat after Aidan expressed an interest in wanting his female rat, Oreo, to have a mate and a family. Grandmother and grandson stopped in a Petco and purchased a black male named Alex. Two weeks after Alex was purchased Aidan woke up with severe stomach pains and died shortly after reaching the hospital. The Pankey family had no idea of the cause of death until months later when the medical examiner sent the diseased, male rat to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. The CDC detected rat-bite fever.
The infection’s name is streptobacillus moniliformis, commonly referred to as rat-bite fever. Cases of rat-bite fever occur when a person is exposed to an infected rodent. Common symptoms are fevers, vomiting, rashes, and muscle or joint pains.
The rare disease can be caused by either of two different bacteria that enter the host from bites or scratches that come with handling an infected rodent. The infection cannot be spread between people but can be fatal if not treated. Antibiotics like penicillin are highly effective at treating the infection.
Andrew Pankey, the boy’s father, said that he cannot eat or sleep and has been forced to take a leave of absence from work. He said he has lost up to 35 pounds since Aidan’s death. The family feels destroyed and wants to be sure that Petco is held responsible for the death of their son and does not sell any more rodents with rat-bite fever.
The lawsuit says that Petco needs to be aware of diseased animals and should adequately test them. They need safety procedures that ensure disease with not spread to pet owners. But in order for that to happen a breeder would have to test eight out of every colony of 100 rats to know if the rats carried the disease, according to researchers. Furthermore, it would cost $40 per rat to test for rat-bite fever, when Petco sells the rats for between $11 and $6.
Petco responded to the lawsuit saying that they were in the process of investigating the claims and will respond when they have more information. They added that they are saddened by the tragic loss the Pankey family has suffered. They also assured the public that the health and safety of people and pets is a top priority.
As of 2004, there had only been an estimated 200 documented cases of rat-bite fever in the U.S., though scientists believe the infection may go undiagnosed since it is difficult to detect and responds well to antibiotics. But as a recent trend shows the growing popularity of pet rats, the number of cases may be increasing, especially among children. It is the Pankley’s mission to hold Petco responsible and raise awareness of rat-bite fever.
By David Tulis