An elderly man in Northern Illinois recently died from rabies after being bitten by a bat. It is the first case of rabies reported in a human in the state since 1954.
According to NBC Chicago, the man awoke in the middle of the night back in August when he felt a bat crawling on his neck. The bat reportedly bit the man before later being caught and tested for rabies.
The man was repeatedly told that he needed to seek medical attention for post-exposure rabies treatment, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH), but he declined.
About a month later, the man started exhibiting symptoms consistent with rabies infections, including neck pains, headaches, difficulty controlling his limbs, numbness in his appendages, and difficulty speaking. Shortly after the symptoms appeared, the man perished.
Rabies is spread by direct contact with an infected animal such as saliva and brain or nervous system tissue, and rabies almost always results in death if not treated.
People who were in contact with the man were assessed and given preventative treatment for rabies. Dr. Ngozi Ezike, the Director of the IDPH, expanded on how to handle potential rabies infections through a press release.
“Rabies has the highest mortality rate of any disease.
However, there is a 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.
Bats are the most commonly identified species with rabies in Illinois.
Wildlife experts did find a bat colony in the home of the individual who died.”
Rabies cases in the U.S. are extremely rare, with only about 1-3 confirmed cases reported each year. Exposure to rabies is more common, with an estimated 60,000 receiving post-exposure vaccines to prevent the disease each year.
According to CNN, bats are responsible for 7 out of every 10 rabies infections in the U.S. While most people typically notice if a bat has bitten them, their teeth are very tiny, and a bite may go unnoticed.
It is recommended that folks who come in close contact with a bat do not release the animal and instead make sure it gets tested for rabies.
Before the 1960s, dogs were the most common source of rabies infections until a nationwide push to require pet immunizations and enact leash laws reduced the number of infectious dog attacks each year.
As recently as the 1940s, approximately 30 to 50 people in the U.S. died of rabies each year, but that number has been dramatically reduced due to post-exposure therapy, pet immunizations, and other treatments.