Woman dies from Weil's disease after rat scratch in garden
A WOMAN has died from a rare disease after she was scratched by a rat in her garden.
Carol Colburn was trying to free the rodent from her bird feeder when she suffered scratches and cuts to her fingers. Four days later she fell ill with flu-like symptoms and within 48 hours she had died.
Colburn, 56, had contracted Weil's disease, a severe form of leptospirosis which is caused by bacteria found in the urine of wild animals. Weil's disease, which affects around 10% of leptospirosis victims, causes jaundice and liver damage.
Around 50 cases of Weil's disease are reported every year in the UK, but it is rare for patients to die from the condition. Last night members of the public were warned not to put out food in their gardens that might attract wild animals like rats.
An inquest into Colburn's death heard that she rushed outside into her garden at her home in Brighton after hearing the rat screaming. She ignored requests from her husband and son to put gloves on and grappled with the animal as she tried to free it from the wire bird feeder. She began feeling unwell and later became jaundiced and could not move.
Marc Cubbon, a microbiologist at the Royal Sussex Hospital in Brighton, told Brighton Coroners' Court that humans can become infected if they come into contact with the animal's urine, either in soil or in water, or if they come into contact with the animal's skin and they have an open wound.
He said it was also possible that humans might be able to inhale the disease. Cubbon said that after a conversation with Colburn at 2pm on May 8, he had begun considering leptospirosis. Three hours later she suffered a heart attack and died before either of her daughters, Katrina, 27, and Zoe, 30, were able to get to the hospital.
Katrina said: "My mum spent hours in the garden feeding wild animals and wouldn't have given it a thought. It has come as such a shock and seems like such a shame that trying to rescue an animal should have such dire consequences."
Cubbon's husband Peter has since died of lung cancer.
Deputy Coroner for Brighton and Hove, Arthur Hooper, recorded a narrative verdict, which means the circumstances of a death are recorded without attributing the cause to a named individual.
Hooper said: "The public should be made aware of the dangers of leaving food out that might attract animals like rats. If you must come into contact with rats please wear gloves."
Leptospirosis is treated with antibiotics, but this is only effective if administered within four to seven days of onset of the illness.
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