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By Marty Graham
SAN DIEGO, Feb 26 (Reuters) - The family of a 10-year-old California boy who died of rat-bite fever last June has sued Petco Inc, saying one of its stores sold the boy a diseased rat that caused his death.
Aidan Pankey died about two weeks after he and his grandmother bought the rat, which he named Alex, at a Petco store in San Diego as a companion for his rat named Oreo, the lawsuit filed on Monday said.
It said that between May 27 and June 12, 2013, Aidan contracted rat-bite fever from Alex the rat. The wrongful death lawsuit filed in San Diego County Superior Court by his parents said they are seeking an unspecified amount of money in damages.
The child woke up extremely ill the night of June 11, and was rushed to hospital, where he died just after midnight. The county medical examiner determined that the boy died of streptobacillus moniliformis infection, also known as rat-bite fever, according to the complaint.
"As a company engaged in the business of selling rats, the defendants knew or should have known about the dangers - especially to children - of rat-bite fever and ensured that no diseased rats entered the stream of commerce," the lawsuit said.
Petco spokesman Dave Hallisey said the company does not comment on pending litigation, but he provided its information sheets for people who buy rats. They warn customers that rats are potential carriers of rat-bite fever and that people should wash their hands before and after handling their pets.
"We're deeply saddened by the Pankey family's tragic loss," Petco said in a statement. "The health and safety of people and pets is always our top priority, and we take the family's concerns very seriously."
Rat-bite fever is usually caused by bites or scratches from infected rodents and can cause fever, vomiting and muscle and joint pain. It can be fatal if untreated, especially if infection spreads to vital organs, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The CDC said on its website that rat-bite fever is rare in the United States, and that recent case reports showed a potential risk of the disease among people who have contact with rodents at home or work. (Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Grant McCool)