Reporting on rare diseases is all too important, since most of us have never come into contact with said diseases and wouldn’t know what to do if we did. A report published in BMJ Case Reports highlights the case of a 17-year-old woman who was infected with a rare but treatable condition known as rat-bite fever, which developed in pet rodents that lived in her bedroom.

Doctors who treated the woman said she was admitted to the hospital with pain in her right hip and lower back that got continually worse over the span of two days before immobilizing her. Intermittent fever, nausea and vomiting, and a pink rash on her hands and feet started shortly after she was admitted and continued over the next two weeks. While her nausea and vomiting eventually improved, her fever continued and she also ended up developing tenderness of a joint in her pelvis and pain in her right leg.

Upon talking about certain lifestyle factors, the doctors learned that the woman lived in close proximity to a number of animals, including a dog, cat, horse, and three rats that lived in her bedroom. In fact, one of her rats had just died in the three weeks prior to the onset of her symptoms. Following a subsequent blood test, the woman tested positive for Streptobacillus moniliformis — the most common cause of rat-bite fever.

According to the report, rat-bite fever goes unrecognized and undiagnosed all too often. Around only 200 cases of this condition have been reported in the United States dating all the way back to 1839. Although the majority of these cases have involved a bite or scratch from a rodent, a few cases have been reported without direct bacterial inoculation.

Cases of rat-bite fever have also been described in writings that date back 2,300 years ago. It was described as “a disease of the poor” early on, but in today’s world it tends to affect lab workers and children with rodents as pets. Left untreated, rat-bite fever can have mortality rate as high as 13 percent. In this case, the woman underwent four weeks of antibiotics before eventually making a full recovery.

Unfortunately, a similar case of rat-bite fever that occurred back in June 2013 did not end so well. Aiden Pankey, 10, was admitted to the emergency room with a severe stomach ache and high fever just after his family adopted a pet rodent from the wholesale retailer Costco. He passed away within 24 hours of being admitted. The San Diego County medical examiner’s office would later determine the cause of death to be a S. moniliformis infection, or rat-bite fever.

Source: Sanchez-Flores X, Tsai G, Brown C. Oh Rats! Fever, Rash, and Arthritis in a Young Woman. BMJ Case Reports. 2015.