Swaffham boy’s battle for life after rat bite

A mother is warning other parents to be alert after her son almost died following a rat bite.

Elizabeth Whitehead's 22 month old son Kiall suffered from a number of severe symptoms after being bitten by a pet rat.

Now, Miss Whitehead, of Swaffham, is warning pet owners to have their rats checked out for bacteria that can lead to the extremely rare rat bite fever.

Today young Kiall is laughing and smiling as usual, but it could have been so much worse after the bite in April.

Initial bleeding was followed two weeks later by a high temperature, but the symptoms took a turn for the worse when suddenly he was unable to stand on his right leg or even move his neck.

A paediatrician at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King's Lynn was able to identify the rare problem and treatment began.

Miss Whitehead, 24, said: 'She knew what it was start away. As he was bitten by a rat two weeks previously, she said it was rat bite fever. Because his neck was stiff and he couldn't stand, she was worried for life. She said if we don't treat him now you are going to lose your son.'

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The bite had happened when Kiall put his right thumb out to touch a pet rat belonging to Miss Whitehead's friend on April 11.

'They normally say rats are good pets to have with children,' said Miss Whitehead, a part-time bookkeeper. 'I went straight to the doctor because he was bleeding so much, it wasn't just a bite, it really bit down into his thumb and it wouldn't stop bleeding.'

Two weeks later Kiall was suffering from a high temperature, was sleeping all day and not touching food.

Two further trips to the doctors followed as Miss Whitehead, of Dove House Row, tried to get help for her suffering child.

'He was really unsettled and upset. He couldn't stand on his right leg. He was really upset and doesn't cry unless there is a reason, he is a really contented little boy,' she said.

The following day, Saturday, April 30, he couldn't even sit up, so was rushed to casualty.

Here doctors began a course of antibiotics that is used against meningitis.

Miss Whitehead said: 'The doctors at the hospital were very concerned for his welfare and told me I was very lucky that my son was still alive and that we were not out of the woods yet.'

The pair stayed in hospital for four days and as Kiall began to improve he was able to put weight on his leg and walk short distances.

Today the only sign left of the illness is that he is about to lose his thumbnail.

Miss Whitehead said: 'People are under the illusion that rats are a good family pet. They might sit in a cage and let you hold it but if they have this bacteria and bite a child or even an adult, someone with a low immune system could end up being hospitalised like my child.'

Rat bite fever is a very rare condition. It can be passed on through a bite, scratch or even handling a rat infected with either Streptobacillus moniliformis or Spirillum minus. Other animals including gerbils, dogs and cats can carry the disease and infect humans.

Symptoms can develop one or two weeks after the bite and it has proven fatal.

Tests can be done to see if animals have these particular bacteria, and Miss Whitehead, who said she didn't blame anyone for what happened, added that she hoped pet rat owners would do this.

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