A British woman has died from a rare disease after being scratched by a wild rat.
The rat had been trapped in a bird feeder in her garden and the 56 year old woman was injured while trying to free it.
The woman was not wearing protective gloves and suffered scratches and cuts to her fingers as she struggled to free the rodent from the wire feeding device.
Within days she developed flu-like symptoms and 48 hours later died from the rare Weil's disease, which is a severe form of leptospirosis, caused by bacteria found in the urine of wild animals.
As a rule leptospirosis victims experience severe headaches and flu-like symptoms but the severe form which is Weil's disease, causes jaundice and liver damage, and can be fatal - but it usually only affects 10% of leptospirosis victims.
Weil's disease is also known as canicola fever, canefield fever, Nanukayami fever and 7-day fever.
It is a bacterial disease that affects humans and a wide range of animals, including mammals, birds, amphibians and reptiles but is relatively rare in humans.
The infection is usually transmitted to humans when fresh water that has been contaminated by animal urine comes into contact with unhealed breaks in the skin, eyes or with the mucous membranes.
It is most commonly carried by rats, mice and voles but a wide range of other mammals including dogs, deer, rabbits, hedgehogs, cows, sheep and even certain marine mammals are also able to carry and transmit the disease - dogs may pick it up by licking the urine of an infected animal from grass or soil, or drinking from an infected puddle.
The infective bacteria are likely to be found on muddy riverbanks, ditches, gulleys and muddy livestock rearing areas which wild or farm mammals regularly traverse.
Experts say there is a direct link between the amount of rainfall and the incidence of leptospirosis, making it seasonal in temperate climates and year-round in tropical climates.
The incubation period can be anywhere from 4 to 14 days and in humans the symptoms include high fever, severe headache, chills, muscle aches, and vomiting, and may include jaundice, red eyes, abdominal pain, diarrhea, and a rash.
It is diagnosed by blood and urine tests and treatment is usually complicated involving antibiotics and possibly other drugs to ward off possible complications.
Experts say confirmed cases of Weil's disease are few and far between and advise against leaving food out for wild animals and also say people coming into contact with animals such as wild rats should always wear gloves.