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Nashville woman being treated for rat bite fever

A local pet store is investigating claims one of its rats made a customer sick.

Posted Updated

Liz Lohuis
NASHVILLE, TN — A local pet store is investigating claims one of its rats made a customer sick.

Jessica Qualls is in the hospital and being treated for rat bite fever.

Qualls said she bought "Salt" from Petco in Bellevue on Dec. 29. She returned the rat on Jan. 10 after she said the pet bit her.

Ten days later, she started feeling sick.

"Once I realized I couldn't move my left arm I knew it wasn't the flu," Qualls said.

Qualls spoke to News 4 from her hospital bed Friday night.

"They are treating me like it's rat bite fever so far," Qualls said.

Qualls said Petco gave her a refund, and later told her the rat has respiratory issues and died.

Qualls said her other pet rat, not from Petco, has also since died.

"They kind of acted like it was no big deal, like yeah, that can't happen," Qualls said.

Petco spokesperson Lisa Stark sent us this statement:

At Petco, the health and safety of people and pets is always our top priority. We're aware of this customer's reported illness, we take her concerns very seriously and we're conducting a thorough investigation. With regard to companion animals sold in our stores, including rats, we provide all new pet parents with an outline of proper care instructions, safe handling guidelines and potential health risks, along with our recommendation to seek medical attention any time they receive a bite, scratch or other questionable contact with their pet. It's also important to know that our animal sourcing, handling and care standards are among the highest in the industry; and all of our procedures are developed and frequently reviewed by an independent panel of animal care experts, veterinarians and specialists.

We do not want anyone to become unnecessarily alarmed, but companion animals of all kinds are potential carriers of a number of diseases that require certain safeguards to ensure safety. We recommend that pet parents always wash their hands before and after handling companion animals and/or habitat contents. Also, pregnant women, children under the age of 5 and people with weakened immune systems should consult with their physician before purchasing and/or caring for any companion animal. Anyone who is bitten, scratched or has doubts about contact with a pet should always consult a physician and ensure they let their doctor know what kind of pet they own.

Qualls wants more of an explanation.

"If I didn't come to the hospital where would I be? Would I die? I know there are cases where people have died. It's scary," Qualls said.

Rat bite fever can easily be treated with antibiotics.

Qualls said she does have an auto-immune disorder that is likely making this illness for her a little worse.

She said she is not opposed to having a pet rat again in the future, but she will go about adopting one differently.

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