Phoenix Man Blames PetCo for Case of Rat-Bite Fever (Whatever That is)

We've heard of all sorts of fevers -- cat-scratch, valley, fevers where the only prescription is "more cow-bell" -- but we weren't familiar with the variety that a Phoenix man claims made him "violently ill," prompting a lawsuit against PetCo.

George Heitzman claims he contracted something called rat-bite fever after he bought a pet rat from PetCo, and as the name of the disease would suggest, it bit him.

As a result, Heitzman has filed suit in Maricopa County Superior Court against the pet-supplies giant.

"Rats being sold to people should not have rat-bite fever," Heitzman's lawyer, M.E. "Buddy" Rake Jr., tells New Times.

The national Centers for Disease Control reports that rat-bite fever is extremely rare in the United States and is usually successfully treated with penicillin or other antibiotics.

This, unfortunately, was not the case for Heitzman, who ended up in intensive care and stuck with a $130,000 medical bill as a result of the disease, his lawyer says.

Rake says Heitzman is lucky to be alive and that this isn't the first time someone has been hurt from a rat bought at PetCo. According to Rake and maintained in the complaint, a few years ago a 10-year-old boy died from rat-bite fever after he was bitten by a rat he also bought from the company.

"It wouldn't be any different if they sold someone a dog with rabies," he says. "I'm not in the nuisance-lawsuit business -- he was in rough shape."

PetCo did not immediately return telephone calls this afternoon, but in its defense, there is an information pamphlet explaining exactly how to avoid contracting rat-bite fever available on the company's Web site. Check it out here --though it seems the pamphlet's best suggestion is to not get bitten in the first place.

Our suggestion: Don't have a disgusting rat for a pet.

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