Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Rat Bite Fever

*Disclaimer* this is a really long post with mostly unrelated pictures of a strangely obscure disease...*

By early October Ethan still had not recovered from the illness he had since the beginning of September. He kept getting worse and I would take him back to the doctor. I took him to his pediatrician and she would send us back to the emergency room. And they in turn would send us home with instructions to give him acetaminophen or ibuprofen for his fevers and joint aches. His joints were so red, hot, and inflamed. He couldn't move his fingers, wrists, shoulders,  ankles or knees without a lot of pain. He was still breaking out in more of that awful rash.  Everything they did test for came back negative, and the doctors kept insisting it was a "classic case" of Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease, which they never actually tested for...

{Unrelated photo* Feeding ducks at a friend's house in September}
But that diagnosis just did not sit well with me. The more I researched about it, and the more sick he got the less peace I felt about the whole situation. My child was much much sicker than that virus should have made him, and it was lasting for much longer than it should have. Plus the symptoms, while similar, just didn't match up. I felt like they were just giving him a label without being sure of what it really was to shut me up. 

{Unrelated Photos* Emmett fell asleep on the side table after standing and inspecting the little green snake Rodrigo found and brought home to show me}
In October, one full month after he became sick, his pediatrician sent us back to the emergency room and they finally decided to have Ethan see a few specialists. So they admitted him (us! I stayed with him at the hospital and Rodrigo stayed home with the other children) to Children's Hospital on a Monday evening and he was scheduled to see an infectious disease doctor, a rheumatologist, and a dermatologist the next day. The three of them after their initial exams all agreed that it was most assuredly NOT hand, foot, and mouth disease, nor had it ever been. Initially the infectious disease. Dr  and the Rheum. Dr thought it might possibly be Juvenile Idiopathic Rheumatoid Arthritis, while the Derm. Dr  thought it might be chronic bacterial meningitis. The I.D. doctor said that since it did not appear to be in his realm of expertise he would not be seeing us again. He wished us luck and said goodbye. The testing was begun on Tuesday morning for J.I.R.A. and bacterial meningitis. 

{Unrelated Photos* Box Turtle found while hiking in the woods with Daddy} 
On Wednesday morning at 8:00am someone knocked on the hospital room door and it was the infectious disease Dr  again... He came in and said that after doing more reading and researching he could not possibly agree with the possible meningitis diagnosis, and that he was seriously questioning the Rheumatoid arthritis answer now. Which kind of made me happy, because I really didn't feel that it was either of those either after spending the night in the hospital reading everything I could find on the internet about both of those. However, I still needed to know what in the world was wrong with Ethan! I kept praying that if God didn't just simply heal him outright, to please give the doctors enough wisdom to figure this out and help him!  So the doctor sat in the room with us and asked a million questions about Ethan and the whole family, and even about people Rodrigo worked with, our shopping habits, our travels, our schooling and friends, our pets and farm animals, I mean that man asked us about everything! Finally he said that he had a few ideas and left and promised to come back in a few hours. A couple of hours later he showed back up and asked if we had a pet rat. We did. And then he directed me to a medical journal article about Rat Bite Fever. The more I read and the more we talked about it the more confident I became that this was it. Samples for testing were taken and we were finally able to go home with a PICC line inserted in Ethan's arm and a huge amount of I.V. penicillin to give him 4 times a day around the clock. I felt at peace for the very first time since this whole sickness began back in the first week of September! 
{*Source* Picture of a PICC line catheter- a very scary looking thing that leads straight into my baby's heart! }
Rat bite fever is apparently extremely rare. There have only been about 200 known cases in the United States since the early 1900's. However doctors believe that it is much more common than that. It is just that is very hard to diagnose and is often misdiagnosed as hand, foot, and mouth, rheumatoid arthritis, bacterial meningitis, even syphilis! It can have a really high mortality rate of 10% (Some research claims as high as a 25% mortality rate)  if left untreated, but apparently with massive doses of I.V. penicillin it is almost always completely curable. 

{Unrelated Photo* Emmett was riding on his Daddy's shoulders while hiking when he decided to grab a tree in passing and not let go. Rodrigo took another step before realizing what had happened and that Emmett has dangling in mid-air behind him. Thankfully he had a firm hold of the baby's feet!} 
Ethan is feeling so much better now! He has finished his second week of antibiotics. The PICC catheter in his arm was removed last Wednesday. The fever was gone and hasn't returned since within 12 hours of his first dose of antibiotics. The horrid pustules covering his hands and feet are gone now, and he has an appetite and some energy for the first time in over a month and a half! The arthritic swelling and pain has disappeared from all of his joints. He has been going outside to play for a little while everyday, and now is feeling frustrated because he doesn't have the stamina and strength he did to keep up with his brothers like he did before he got sick. 
{Unrelated Photo* Claire walking Zombie, one of our English bulldogs. The boys named him...of course!} 
And no his pet rat didn't bite him, but it can be passed via saliva or urine, both of which he had been exposed to many times while holding the rat, and then cleaning the cage. The rat is no longer here, and I am sure we will never have another pet rat in our home. That makes us all quite sad since she was actually a really sweet pet, but I just can't have a carrier of such a scary (potentially fatal) disease living and playing with my children. I would have never allowed it if there had been any indication that it could harm my children in some way. And she was a very pleasant little pet, who never soiled outside of her cage, never bit, never hurt anyone... Everything you ever see or hear about domesticated rats is that they are super clean, intelligent, sweet pets, and that only wild rats can carry disease.These rats have been in captivity for so long that they pose no threat whatsoever... or so the story goes! 

{Unrelated photos* A trebuchet that Matthew built last week. Acorns and pebbles have been flying around non-stop since then!}
So that is what I've been dealing with for the past month and a half. Ethan is now almost completely back to normal. I really don't like to give my kids antibiotics, preferring to let them fight sickness off themselves if possible with the help of good food, rest and herbal medicines. Several of my children have never even had antibiotics in their entire lives. Ethan had only had them one other time, before he was a year old. But in this case I was so happy to have that medicine available for him! I, on the other hand, am still trying to recover from the stress and constant running and being away from home that having such a sick child involved. I have had to say no to invitations from several dear friends lately, and am trying to cut every single thing that isn't absolutely needful from our schedule so I can just stay home and rest and wait for this little one to come. Today there are only about 2 and a half weeks until her due date! 


  1. Oh my goodness mama, what a crazy and tiring 6 weeks. I am so happy to hear that Ethan is back to normal, but I can only imagine how terrible it must have been to see him so sick and not have answers. That Dr is one special doctor, seems he knew something was up and trusted his gut. Thank goodness.

    Wishing you a calm and peaceful two weeks as you await the arrival of your new bundle. xo

    1. Thanks Kim! It was awful, but I am so glad that Ethan got the Doctor he did! I've been thanking God for him every day since!

  2. So glad Ethan is better! Praying that you truly get some rest.

  3. Oh my, what a frightful thing to experience! Thank goodness Ethan is now healing, and thank goodness you listened to your intuition and were able to connect with the doctor you were meant to connect with. Thank you for sharing this story too; I have a child that would love to have a pet rat...and now she knows better.

    Now you can hopefully rest at ease before welcoming your new little one into the world.


    1. In some small way I feel bad warning others not to have pet rats, but after what happened to us, and realizing how close we came to possibly loosing our sweet Ethan, I felt I had to let other mom's know about the possibility of Rat Bite Fever! Maybe mention to her that Emus still seem to make great pets though! ;-)

  4. Oh my Rachel ~ what a time you've had. It must have been so very scary & frustrating as well. Well done for persisting until he got the correct diagnosis. I'm glad to hear Ethan is getting better. I will be praying for you & baby as I hadn't realised you are so close!!! Can't wait to 'meet' your precious daughter. I'm not sure if you got my email, but we received the beautiful doll yesterday!!! Ellie & I were so excited & it is adorable!!
    I'd better go, but now I'm getting your posts through email so I don't keep missing them and I just got this one & wanted to comment :)
    Have a lovely day my friend
    Take care & look after yourself!

    1. Hi Renata! I did just see your email and was getting on here to reply! So glad you liked the doll! I very much appreciate your prayers. I am feeling very very "ripe" right now!

  5. That is so scary! I'm so glad that the doctor figured it out and Ethan is doing better. I wonder how many pets can actually spread diseases? My uncle and aunt had to euthanize their cat after my uncle's mother developed cat scratch fever. They didn't know if it came from their cat or another cat, so had to euthanize them both (long time ago, so hopefully they can tests cats for this now). It is to bad that they can't treat the rat for the disease also, so that the rat is not contagious anymore.

    1. I asked the doctor about pets and disease. (We have a house and barnyard full of animals!) He said that while there are many diseases that can be spread by animals, most are entirely preventable by good hygiene and animal husbandry.

  6. Wow! How frightening... I was actually biting my fingernail as I read. Poor Ethan. I'm so pleased that you found answers and got the treatment he needed in good time. Isn't it great that we have that innate sense of 'something is wrong' and as mother's we won't let it rest. Good on you for following your gut.
    I had two rats in my classroom when I was teaching - I didn't know this was possible. Yikes!

    1. It was very frightening! It was horrible! And you know I had pet rats as a kid, and so did my husband, and our kids have had several over the past 10 years or so. And no one ever came down with anything like this before. Really "bad luck" this time I guess!

  7. Oh my goodness! Poor Ethan. But I'm so glad you guys were able to figure out what the issue was so that he can recover (and just in time for the holidays!) I have always known pet rats to be extremely clean and healthy pets. Ideal for children because of their sweet nature, no idea they had the ability to spread such a thing!

    I look forward to your next post, hopefully with a birth story!

  8. Those pictures of Emmett asleep on the side table have actually made my day, what a sweetie!


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