Illinois man dies after getting rabies from a bat bite while he slept

More than 1,000 bats tested each year in Illinois, but only around three per cent test positive for disease

Gustaf Kilander
Washington, DC
Wednesday 29 September 2021 15:01
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An Illinois man in his mid-80s has died after being bitten by a rabid bat in the first case of rabies in the state since 1954.

The Illinois Department of Public Health said on Tuesday that the man, who later refused rabies treatment, woke up with the bat on his neck in August.

The bat was captured and tested positive for the disease. The man started experiencing symptoms this month, such as neck pain, headaches, numbness, having difficulty gaining control of his arms, as well as having difficulty speaking.

The state’s health department has said that people who have come in contact with the man have been provided with preventative rabies treatment if needed.

“Rabies has the highest mortality rate of any disease,” the director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, Dr Ngozi Ezike, said in a press release. He added that “there is life-saving treatment for individuals who quickly seek care after being exposed to an animal with rabies. If you think you may have been exposed to rabies, immediately seek medical attention and follow the recommendations of health care providers and public health officials”.

Rabies in humans is exceedingly rare – only between one and three cases are reported across the US each year, but exposure to the disease is more common, with around 60,000 Americans a year receiving vaccines after being exposed.

The virus attacks the central nervous system and can cause brain death.

“Sadly, this case underscores the importance of raising public awareness about the risk of rabies exposure in the United States,” the Lake County Health Department Executive Director, Mark Pfister, said. “Rabies infections in people are rare in the United States.”

“Once symptoms begin, rabies is almost always fatal, making it vital that an exposed person receive appropriate treatment to prevent the onset of rabies as soon as possible,” he added.

The Illinois health department also noted that bats are the most “commonly identified species with rabies” in the state and that a bat colony was found in the home of the man who died.

People who have been bitten by a bat can you usually tell, but the animals have very small teeth and the mark from a bite may not be easily spotted.

The Illinois health department urged residents that if they find themselves close to a bat and don’t know if they’ve been exposed to rabies, such as if they wake up with a bat in their room, they shouldn’t release the bat as it should be tested for the disease.

“Call your doctor or local health department to help determine if you could have been exposed to rabies and if you need preventive treatment. Call your local animal care and control to safely remove the bat,” the department said.

They added that if the bat tests negative, preventative treatment is unnecessary.

“The only way rabies can be confirmed in a bat is through laboratory testing. You cannot tell just by looking at a bat if it has rabies,” the department added.

In Illinois, 30 bats have tested positive for rabies this year. More than 1,000 bats are tested each year following a possible exposure, but only around three per cent of the bats sent to a lab test positive for rabies.

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