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Vector Borne Zoonotic Dis. 2014 Feb;14(2):94-100. doi: 10.1089/vbz.2013.1417.

Bacteria isolated from conspecific bite wounds in Norway and black rats: implications for rat bite-associated infections in people.

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  • 11 School of Population and Public Health, University of British Columbia , Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada .


Bites associated with wild and domestic Norway and black rats (Rattus norvegicus and Rattus rattus) may have a variety of health consequences in people. Bite-related infections are among the most significant of these consequences; however, there is little data on the infectious agents that can be transmitted from rats to people through biting. This is problematic because without an accurate understanding of bite-related infection risks, it is difficult for health professionals to evaluate the adequacy of existing guidelines for empirical therapy. The objectives of this study were to increase our knowledge of the bacterial species associated with rat bites by studying bite wounds that wild rats inflict upon one another and to review the literature regarding rat bites and bite wound management. Wild Norway and black rats (n=725) were trapped in Vancouver, Canada, and examined for bite wounds in the skin. All apparently infected wounds underwent aerobic and anaerobic culture, and isolated bacteria were identified. Thirty-six rats had bite wound-related infections, and approximately 22 different species of bacteria belonging to 18 genera were identified. Staphylococcus aureus was the most common isolate; however, the majority of infections (72.5%) were polymicrobial. Rat bites can result in infection with a number of aerobic and anaerobic Gram-positive and Gram-negative bacteria. In humans, these wounds are best managed through early recognition and cleansing. The benefit of prophylactic antimicrobial treatment is debatable, but given the deep puncturing nature of rodent bites, we suggest that they should be considered a high risk for infection. Antibiotics selected should include coverage for a broad range of bacterial species.

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