Clinical infection in house rats (Rattus rattus) caused by Streptobacillus notomytis


Rat bite fever is an under-reported, under-diagnosed emerging zoonosis with worldwide distribution. Besides Spirillum minus, Streptobacillus moniliformis is the major causative microorganism although it usually colonises rats without any clinical signs. A group of house rats (Rattus rattus) kept in a zoo exhibition for educational purposes suffered from neurological signs including disorientation, torticollis, stall walking, ataxia and death. Gross pathological and histo-pathological examinations of the investigated rats revealed high-grade otitis interna et media, from which Streptobacillus notomytis was isolated in pure culture or as the predominant microorganism. This case series underlines a previously expressed hypothesis that R. rattus might be naturally colonised with S. notomytis, whereas the traditional rat bite fever organism, S. moniliformis, might be restricted to the Norway rat (Rattus norvegicus). However, the general paucity of Streptobacillus isolates, especially from their respective animal hosts, precludes definitive proof of these host tropisms. This is the first report of S. notomytis detection outside Asia and Australia and the first evidence for its role as a facultative pathogen in house rats.

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Fig. 1
Fig. 2


S. :


R. :



Rat bite fever

T :

Type strain



m2 :

Square meter

m3 :

Cubic meter


Enzyme linked immunosorbent assay


Immune globulin




Columbia agar with 5% sheep blood


Matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization-time of flight mass spectrometry


Main spectra peak lists


Multi locus variable number tandem repeat analysis

groEL :

Chaperonine gene

gyrB :

Gyrase subunit B gene

recA :

Recombinase subunit A gene


Milligram per kilogram


Base pair/s


Single nucleotide polymorphism






Central nervous system






Undetermined sex


Landesuntersuchungsanstalt für das Gesundheits- und Veterinärwesen Sachsen


Landesbetrieb Hessisches Landeslabor


Institut für Bakteriologie und Mykologie Leipzig


Not applicable


European Funds of Regional Development


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The authors like to thank Anna Mohr, Marie-Luise Sonneborn, Walter Lang and Sassan Schwarz for excellent technical assistance and Ekkehard Hiller, Peter Lasch and Marcel Erhard for a helpful discussion on MALDI spectra harmonisation from different platforms. The LHL is supported by the Hessian Ministry for the Environment, Climate Change, Agriculture and Consumer Protection. The work of Juliane Fornefett, Sophie Funk and Christoph Georg Baums was financially supported by the European Funds of Regional Development (EFRE) and is registered at the “Sächsische AufbauBank” under the Proposal Number 100211188.

Author information




VM, CU, DP, BK, JF, CGB and TE made substantial contributions to conception and design or acquisition of data or analysis and interpretation of data. CU, DP, BK, KE, UK, AF, SF, JF, CGB and TE carried out diagnostics and experiments. VM was in charge of animal care, sample acquisition and therapy. TE drafted the manuscript and all the authors were involved in revising it critically for important intellectual content and approved the final version.

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Correspondence to Tobias Eisenberg.

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All applicable international, national, and/or institutional guidelines for the care and use of animals were followed as described in Materials and Methods.

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Michel, V., Ulber, C., Pöhle, D. et al. Clinical infection in house rats (Rattus rattus) caused by Streptobacillus notomytis. Antonie van Leeuwenhoek 111, 1955–1966 (2018).

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  • Disease
  • House rat
  • Otitis
  • Rat bite fever
  • Rattus rattus
  • Streptobacillus notomytis