Rat bites are relatively rare in the UK, making up only one out of every 50 bite injuries according to the NHS. An estimated 70 per cent of animal bites in the UK result from pets biting their owners. Rats are relatively small animals so their bites are unlikely to give rise to complications, but you should still take care to clean the bite thoroughly and visit your doctor if you are concerned about infection or develop further symptoms.
Wash the wound straight away, advises the NHS. The easiest way to do this is by holding the injured area under warm water for several minutes. You could also use salty water to clean the wound. Squeeze the injury gently to encourage it to bleed. Dry the wound and cover it with a plaster or small bandage. If the wound is painful you could take a painkiller such as paracetamol or ibuprofen to ease the discomfort.
Your doctor may prescribe antibiotics if they consider there is a chance your wound could become infected. Most doctors will recommend antibiotics for bites to the face, feet or hands, or where the bite has left puncture wounds. In addition, patients suffering from pre-existing conditions like HIV or who are undergoing chemotherapy are usually given a course of antibiotics after being bitten. Most patients in this situation are given co-amoxiclav, a drug related to penicillin, so if you are allergic to this drug you’ll need to tell your doctor so he can use an alternative.
In theory, the rat the bit you could be carrying the rabies virus but the chance of this is extremely low. Rabies has been virtually wiped out in the United Kingdom and most British cases result from contact with animals abroad. All mammals are potential carriers of the virus but it’s most commonly found in dogs, cats, bats and monkeys. If you were bitten abroad and are concerned about the risk of rabies, discuss it with your doctor.
If your rat bite wound could have been contaminated, for example by soil or manure because you were unable to wash it immediately, you may be at risk of developing tetanus. The rate bite is not responsible for transmitting tetanus, but instead creates the hole in the skin through which the tetanus infection can pass. Most British people are inoculated against tetanus in childhood, but if you aren’t sure that your vaccination is complete, go to your doctor. Tetanus is a very serious condition and can even be fatal so don’t take any risks.
Rat bite fever
Rat bite fever is another possible, if unlikely, complication. Only one or two cases are diagnosed in England and Wales annually. If you develop a rash accompanied by fever, vomiting or a headache in the 10 days after being bitten, you may have been infected with the streptobacillus moniliformis bacteria and should go to your doctor or call NHS Direct. Another form of fever associated with rat bites but caused by the spirillum minor bacteria develops any time up to four weeks after the bite. Again, if you experience a headache, chills, fever or a general feeling of malaise, consult your doctor for advice.
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- NHS Choices: Animal and Human Bites, Overview
- Patient.co.uk: Human and Animal Bites
- NHS Choices: Animal and Human Bites, Treating Bites
- NHS Choices: Rabies, Causes Of Rabies
- NHS Choices: Tetanus, Treating Tetanus
- NHS Choices: Tetanus, Introduction
- Health Protection Agency: Rat Bite Fever
- NHS Evidence: Bites Background Information, Rat Bites