Rat scratch fever?

Originally Published: March 23, 2001 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: August 15, 2012
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Dear Alice,

I just got clawed by a rat in Riverside Park. It jumped off of the top of a trashcan, hit my leg, twisted around and clawed my leg, broke skin with three claws. I cleaned it out really well, but what else should I do?

Dear Reader,

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), rats, despite their fearsome reputation, almost never carry rabies; so, even if you were bitten instead of clawed, it's unlikely that you'll start foaming at the mouth. Rabies is considered endemic (widespread) in New York City wildlife. The New York City Health Code mandates the reporting of all animal bites to the Animal Bite Monitoring / Rabies Surveillance line at 212.676.2483.

It's possible (but very rare) to contract rabies from scratches if infected saliva from the animal gets into the wound. Rabies is on the rise in the United States and is especially prevalent in raccoons and foxes. Check out the CDC Rabies Questions-and-Answers web page to find out how to protect yourself and your pets from this potentially fatal disease.

Animal scratches can become easily infected and also transmit tetanus. Even though you have cleaned the wound thoroughly, a check with your health care provider is in order to make sure that there are no signs of infection and that your tetanus booster is updated. Columbia students can make an appointment at Medical Services online through Open Communicator, or by calling x4-2284. Also, keep a close watch on the wound, noting any changes in case it doesn't heal properly and reporting them to your provider. Once you get a clean bill of health from your provider, you can shock friends and acquaintances with stories of your rat attack.

Alice