The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is raising awareness of the risks of rabies from bats in the U.S. after three people, including one child, died from rabies between late September and early November 2021.
The three cases, all stemming from contact with bats and described in the January 6, 2022, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, bring the total number of cases in 2021 to five, compared to no reported rabies cases in people during 2019 and 2020, the largest number in a decade.
CDC officials said the deaths were tragic and could have been prevented.
One, an 80-year-old Illinois man, refused to take life-saving shots because of a longstanding fear of vaccines. An Idaho man and a Texas boy did not get shots because of a belief that no bat bite or scratch broke their skin.
In all three cases, people “either trivialized the exposure (to bats) or they didn’t recognize the severity of rabies,” said Ryan Wallace, a CDC rabies expert who co-authored the report.
Two other deaths occurred earlier in 2021. One was a Minnesota man bitten by a bat. He got the shots, but an undiagnosed immune system problem hampered their effectiveness, CDC officials said. The other victim was bitten by a rabid dog while traveling in the Philippines and died in New York after returning to the U.S.
Rabies is caused by a virus that invades the central nervous system and is usually fatal in animals and humans. It’s most commonly spread through a bite from an infected animal, with most U.S. infections in recent years traced to bat encounters.
Infection can cause insomnia, anxiety, confusion, paralysis, salivating, hallucinations, difficulty swallowing and fear of water.
Death can occur only a couple of weeks after symptoms begin. But it can be prevented through a series of five shots given within two weeks of exposure.
An estimated 60,000 Americans are treated each year after possible exposure to rabies, the CDC says.
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