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Rat Bite Fever Biological Agent Reference Sheet (BARS)

Updated November 29th, 2023
Disclaimer: Risk group, biosafety level, and all other precautions noted here are subject to change after a risk assessment by EHS.


Agent Type Risk Group Biosafety Level Animal Housing Biosafety Level
Bacterium RG-2 BSL-2 ABSL-2

Agent Characteristics 

Risk Group: RG-2, associated with human disease, rarely serious; preventive or therapeutic interventions are often available. 

Agent Type: Bacterium

Description: Rat-bite fever (RBF) is an infectious disease that can be caused by Streptobacillus moniliformis or Spirillum minus. The only reported bacteria in North America to cause the disease is Streptobacillus moniliformis. The primary hosts for the bacteria are Black and Norwegian rats. The bacteria are part of the rodent’s normal respiratory flora and can found in the rodent oral, nasal, and conjunctival secretions. People that work with or are in contact with rodents are at higher risk for RBF. The disease can be transmitted to humans from rodents through broken skin, bites and scratches. This is because the disease can be spread from rodents to humans through their saliva, urine, or droppings. RBF cannot be transmitted from human to human. The disease can be cured with antibiotics, untreated infections can be fatal (case-fatality rate 10%). 

Host Range: Rats (most common), rarely other rodents, cats, dogs, ferrets, and weasels, can become infected when hunting, humans can be infected but do not transmit the disease.  

Host Shedding: Feces, saliva, and urine        

Route of Exposure to Humans: animal bites, accidental ingestion of rat feces or urine, percutaneous, broken skin. 

Infectious Dose: unknown                                      Incubation Period: 2 days to 3 weeks

Health Hazards

Signs and symptoms of infection may include:

  • Flu-like symptoms (i.e. fever, headache, dehydration, weight loss, lethargy)
  • Cutaneous symptoms (i.e. skin lesions, rash) 
  • Gastrointestinal symptoms (i.e. loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea)
  • Musculoskeletal symptoms (i.e. joint and muscle pain)

Immunizations: Not available                                  Prophylaxis*: Not available

*Formal medical advice is obtained during medical consultations with Cornell Health or primary healthcare provider as needed.

Agent Viability 

Survival Outside Host Disinfection Inactivation

Can be stored frozen or lyophilized for several days

  • 1:10 bleach solution followed by 70% ethanol
  • Sodium hypochlorite (500 to 1,000 ppm free chlorine)
  • Accelerated hydrogen peroxide
  • Quarternary ammonium compounds

Sensitive to moist heat (121ºC for 15 minutes) or dry heat (>160ºC for one hour)

For more guidance on disinfection see: disinfectant selection.

Laboratory Hazards 

  • Handling of rats and other rodents

Laboratory Handling Guidelines 

Laboratory Biosafety Level (BSL): BSL-2

Training Lab Engineering Controls Personal Protective Equipment

Several Rodent Handling Classes are Provided by CARE. These classes review proper handling techniques of rodents to help reduce the risk of injury to you and the animal

  • Closed toed shoes and long pants 

  • Single gloves 

  • Eye protection

  • Snap front lab coat with cinch cuffs

Waste Management: Regulated Medical Waste (RMW)

Shipping Guidance: Refer to EHS Biological Materials Shipping 

Animal Vivarium Guidance

Animal Housing Biosafety Level (ABSL): ABSL-2 enhanced or ABSL-2 (use ABSL-2 enhanced PPE when animals cannot be housed in a microisolator or handled within a BSC)

Animal Biosecurity: Experimental animals are housed separately 

Change Cages: Using a Biosafety Cabinet (BSC) when feasible

Exposure and Spill Procedures 

Mucous Membranes: Flush eyes, mouth, or nose for 15 minutes at an eyewash station. See: responding to exposures.

Other Exposures: Wash with soap and water for 15 minutes (open wounds, sores, etc.) or a minimum of 20 seconds for areas with intact skin. 

Small Spills: Notify others working in the lab. Don appropriate PPE. For spills involving fecal material, cover area of the spill with paper towels, working from the perimeter toward the center, use the paper towels to remove the spill and associated organic material. Discard contaminated paper towels. For spills involving fecal material and all other spills apply (or re-apply) 6% hydrogen peroxide on the spill site, Allow 20 minutes of contact time. After 20 minutes use paper towels to remove the 6% hydrogen peroxide. See: spill cleanup.

Large Spills: Request assistance from the EHS Spill Team by calling CUPD dispatch. Call 911 from a campus phone or 607-255-1111 from a mobile phone.

Incident Reporting: Immediately report the incident to supervisor and complete the EHS online injury/illness report as soon as possible.

Medical Follow-Up:

  • For students, seek medical attention at Cornell Health or local primary care provider. Call Cornell Health at 607-255-5155 (24-hour phone consultation line) or a local urgent care. 
  • For faculty and staff, seek medical evaluation with a local primary care provider or urgent care. Cornell Health does not see employees for post-exposure care. 
  • Emergencies: Call 911 from a campus phone or 607-255-1111 from a mobile phone. 
Cornell EHS would like to thank Emory University for the use of their Biological Agent Reference Sheet (BARS) format and some content. 

More Information

  1. U.S.  Department  of  Health  and  Human  Services,  Centers  for Disease   Control   and   Prevention,   & National   Institutes   of Health.  (2007). Biosafety  in  microbiological  and  biomedical laboratories (5th ed.). L. C. Chosewood and D. E. Wilson (Eds.). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.
  2. CDC. Rat Bite Fever (RBF) – Information for Health Professionals and Laboratory Personnel. Published 2019. Accessed February 6, 2020 
  3. Elliott SP. Rat bite fever, Streptobacillus moniliformis. Clin Microbiol Rev. 2007;20(1):13-22. doi:10.1128/CMR.00016-06 
  4. Rovid Spickler A. Rat Bite Fever. 2013. Accessed February 6, 2020. 
  5. Gaastra W, Boot R, Ho HTK, Lipman LJA. Rat bite fever. Vet Microbiol. 2009;133(3):211-228. doi:10.1016/j.vetmic.2008.09.079 
  6. Public Health Agency of Canada. Pathogen Safety Data Sheets: Infectious Substances – Streptobacillus moniliformis. Published 2010. Accessed February 6, 2020.