US boy dies from infected rat

JULIE WATSON
Last updated 11:50 26/02/2014

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A San Diego family is suing Petco following the death of their 10-year-old son from a bacterial infection that they say he contracted from his pet rat.

Attorney John Gomez told The Associated Press that his firm filed the lawsuit on Monday in San Diego County seeking an unspecified amount for the suffering endured by the Pankey family, whose son, Aidan, died in June 2013, hours after being rushed to the hospital with severe stomach pains.

The San Diego County Medical Examiner's Office ruled the cause of death was streptobacillus moniliformis infection, commonly known as rat-bite fever, after exposure to an infected rat.

The retailer in a statement expressed its condolences.

"We are deeply saddened by the Pankey family's tragic loss," Petco said in a statement. "The health and safety of people and pets is always a top priority, and we take the family's concerns very seriously."

The boy's grandmother purchased the male rat because her only grandson wanted a mate for his female pet rat, Gomez said.

"He was a bright, energetic, friendly, happy kid who actually had a prior rat, who was a female, and he had this idea in his young head of having his female rat get married," Gomez said.

The lawsuit was not filed until now because attorneys were awaiting the lab results from the federal Centers for Disease Control, which tested the rat to confirm it was infected, Gomez said. The agency could not immediately confirm the results on Tuesday.

Gomez said the Pankey family was not giving interviews, but they are devastated by the death of their only son and want to raise awareness among parents.

"It's a means to ensure this doesn't happen again," Gomez said of the lawsuit. "Apparently there was some breakdown in procedures. They want tighter controls."

Petco Animal Supplies Inc. said it is "in the process of investigating these claims and will respond appropriately when we have more information".

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- AP

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