A WOMAN has died after suffering from 'rat bite fever' caused by her own pet.

Oxfordshire coroner Darren Salter has warned that more people should be aware of the dangers of not seeking treatment for the disease after the death of 34-year-old Simone Stapley.

An inquest into her death at Oxford Coroner's Court yesterday heard how Ms Stapley, from Curtis Avenue, Abingdon, was bitten on her finger by the rat on November 3 but did not seek medical help despite signs of infection.

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Her condition deteriorated and she was taken to the John Radcliffe Hospital on November 7 and died from a heart attack a day later.

'Rat bite fever' is transmitted by rodents carrying the bacteria through a bite wound or open skin.

It is rare in the UK and can usually be treated by a course of antibiotics.

But, if left alone, it can become a serious illness and result in death.

Symptoms include fever, vomiting, headaches and muscle pain.

Complications can lead to infections of the lungs, liver and heart and around one in ten people with the infection die.

The court heard how Ms Stapley had previously been unwell with bouts of pneumonia and other illnesses, prior to being bitten, which may have reduced her immune system.

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During the inquest family members raised questions over the amount of time it took for an ambulance to arrive and about advice previously given by medical professionals.

After hearing the details of the case Mr Salter said: "People should be more aware there is a risk of an infection from a rat bite or scratch and, if that does happen, it needs to be subject to medical advice and treatment.

"The vast majority of cases can be dealt with in a few days using a regular course of antibiotics."

People with rats have been advised to wash their hands immediately after touching, feeding, or caring for their pet.