Illinois man dies of rabies, refused treatment after bat bite

A health worker in India prepares a rabies vaccine for a dog.  Massive pet vaccination campaigns have contributed to making human rabies infections a rarity in the US.

A health worker in India prepares a rabies vaccine for a dog. Massive pet vaccination campaigns have contributed to making human rabies infections a rarity in the US.
Photo: Noah Seelam / AFP (fake images)

An Illinois man had the unfortunate distinction of becoming the first case of human rabies seen in the state in nearly 70 years, health officials reported this week. Unfortunately, like most rabies victims, the man did not survive. He had refused preventive treatment a month earlier.

Rage is caused by a virusRabies Lissavirus) that can infect almost all mammals, including humans. Once inside a host, the virus reaches the nervous system, causing inflammation and neurological symptoms such as confusion, aggression, excessive saliva production, fear of water, and eventually paralysis and death. The virus is usually transmitted through bites or other exposure to the saliva or mucus of a rabid animal, which is loaded with the virus.

There is no effective treatment for rabies once symptoms begin, and only a handful of people are known to have survived the final stage of infection. But there is a widely available vaccine that can work even after confirmed exposure to the virus, provided it is taken in the weeks before symptoms appear. Exposed people also receive a large dose of rabies antibodies drawn from the blood of immunized people or animals.

Rabies remains a serious threat in many poorer parts of the world. But animal control programs and mass vaccination of pets such as dogs and cats have significantly reduced human cases in the US and other countries. Today, approximately one to two deaths from rabies are reported in the U.S. annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, the virus still spreads easily among wildlife and can occasionally pass to humans here under the right conditions.

On Tuesday, the Illinois Department of Public Health reported one of these rare encounters. In mid-August, a Lake County resident in his 80s woke up with a bat around his neck. The bat was captured and it was later discovered that an entire colony lived in its home. Once the bat was known to have rabies, the man was advised to seek post-exposure treatment. But for some reason, he refused. A month later, he began to develop symptoms including neck pain, headache, finger numbness, and difficulty speaking; shortly after, he died. Those who may have been in close contact with the man’s body fluids were also tested and opted to undergo preventive treatment, authorities said. It is the first case of human rabies reported in Illinois since 1954.

“Sadly, this case underscores the importance of raising public awareness about the risk of rabies exposure in the United States,” said Lake County Health Department Executive Director Mark Pfister in a statement. “Rabies infections in people are rare in the United States; however, once symptoms begin, rabies is almost always fatal, so it is vital that an exposed person receives proper treatment to prevent the onset of rabies as soon as possible. “

Bats are the most commonly reported source of rabies exposure in the US, accounting for 70% of human rabies deaths, according to the CDC. And they may have been the original hosts of the ancestor virus that gave rise to rabies and other related viruses. But many animals are capable of transmitting rabies to humans and most bats don’t wear rabies, you can’t tell if a bat has rabies just by looking at it.

That is why it is important that anyone who has been bitten or scratched by an animal is aware of their potential risk of contracting rabies, especially if the animal was wild or is not known to have been vaccinated against rabies, in the case of pets. that roam freely. Ideally, the biting animal can be captured and tested for rabies, but if not, doctors may recommend post-exposure prophylaxis, depending on the situation. circumstances. Although Rabies infections in the US are rare, about 55000 Americans get post-exposure treatment annually, according to the CDC.

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