An animal lover died in agony days after being scratched by a rat in her garden.

Carol Colburn, 56, ignored pleas from her husband to wear gloves as she tried to free the trapped rodent from a wire bird feeder.

She suffered scratches and cuts to her fingers and allowed her son to free the creature while wearing gloves.

Within days, she became seriously ill.

A GP prescribed painkillers and ordered her to rest after she developed flu-like symptoms.

But two days later her skin started to turn yellow and she was unable to move.

She was taken to hospital but died three and a half hours later – six days after being scratched.

An inquest into Mrs Colburn’s death heard she died from Weil’s disease, a rare condition contracted after contact with wild animals.

In 2006 just two people died from the condition in Britain.

After the hearing her children paid tribute to their mother, who had sectioned off a corner of her garden to attract wildlife including foxes and badgers.

Her daughter Katrina, 27, said: “My mum spent hours in the garden feeding wild animals and wouldn’t have given it a second thought.

“It has come as such a shock and seems such a shame that trying to rescue an animal should have such dire consequences.”

The inquest also heard that Mrs Colburn’s husband Peter, 57, died of lung cancer just two months after his wife’s death.

Their eldest daughter Zoe, 30, said: “We didn’t even know dad had cancer. He seemed fit and well.

“But when mum died the shock meant the disease really set in. It was like he was dying from a broken heart.”

The inquest at Brighton Coroner’s Court was told that Mrs Colburn, of Eldred Avenue, Brighton, tried to free the rat after hearing it struggling in her back garden on May 2.

She cut the wire bird feeder to free the animal.

Her husband tried to pull her away while their son Ross went to get gloves.

A statement read to the court said: “Ross and Peter told her to put gloves on. She came away with scratches and cuts to her fingers.”

She developed flu-like symptoms on May 6 and Mr Colburn called their GP.

He alerted their doctor again two days later.

The statement said: “Peter said her skin had become yellow and she had deteriorated and couldn’t move.

“When the doctor arrived she was cold and clammy and jaundiced.

“He called 999 immediately.”

Mrs Colburn was admitted to A&E at the Royal Sussex County Hospital in Brighton at 1.24pm.

She was treated by consultant Dr Steven Barden.

He said: “At 2pm she was suffering from severe jaundice and flu-like symptoms but was able to hold a conversation.

“When she told me she lived near a railway line and often came in to contact with wild animals, I was reminded that my father lives near the same railway line and often comes into contact with rats.

“That’s when I began to consider she was suffering from leptospirosis, also known as Weil’s disease.”

Her condition deteriorated rapidly and she died of a heart attack at 5.05pm, before either of her daughters were able to get to hospital.

Samples taken during a post-mortem examination were later sent to an infectious diseases specialist in America.

Test results confirmed Mrs Colburn had died from Weil’s disease.

Microbiologist Marc Cubbon, of the Royal Sussex, said: “Leptospirosis bacteria infects small mammals and rodents.

“They won’t show symptoms but they excrete the bacteria in their urine and it infects their skin.

“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. It’s also possible that humans might be able to inhale the disease.”

About 50 confirmed cases are reported each year.

Recording a narrative verdict, deputy coroner John Hooper said: “Mrs Colburn died as the result of an infection emanating from a rat in her garden.

“She was one of those rare cases that succumbed to the severe end of Weil’s disease.”

He added: “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.”

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