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Man wakes up to find bat on his neck, dies of rabies after refusing vaccine

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A man in the US who woke up to find a bat on his neck in his Illinois home died of rabies a month later after refusing to get a vaccine to prevent against the deadly viral disease.

The man, who was in in his 80s, had declined treatment after the incident in mid-August, despite the winged creature testing positive for the virus, the Washington Post reported on Thursday.

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Rabies is a vaccine-preventable, zoonotic viral disease. However, once clinical symptoms rabies is virtually 100 percent fatal, according to the World Health Organization.

In up to 99 percent of cases, domestic dogs are responsible for rabies virus transmission to humans. Yet, rabies can affect both domestic and wild animals. It is spread to people and animals through bites or scratches, usually via saliva.

One in three human rabies cases reported yearly

Only one to three human rabies cases are reported in the US each year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

The Illinois resident, who was not named, was living in a home which was later found to contain a colony of bats.

The Illinois Department of Public Health, who reported the death, did not disclose why the man had declined a vaccine.

The WHO says immediate, thorough wound washing with soap and water after contact with a suspect rabid animal is crucial and can save lives.

More than 29 mln receive post-bite vaccine yearly

Every year, more than 29 million people worldwide receive a post-bite rabies vaccination. This is estimated to prevent hundreds of thousands of rabies deaths annually, according to the health body.

The incubation period for rabies is typically 2–3 months but may vary from 1 week to 1 year, dependent upon factors such as the location of virus entry and viral load. Initial symptoms of rabies include a fever with pain and unusual or unexplained tingling, pricking, or burning sensation (paraesthesia) at the wound site. As the virus spreads to the central nervous system, progressive and fatal inflammation of the brain and spinal cord develops.

There are two forms of the disease, ‘furious rabies’ results in signs of hyperactivity, excitable behavior, hydrophobia (fear of water) and sometimes aerophobia (fear of drafts or of fresh air).

Death occurs after a few days due to cardio-respiratory arrest.

Paralytic rabies accounts for about 20 percent of the total number of human cases. This form of rabies runs a less dramatic and usually longer course than the furious form. Muscles gradually become paralyzed, starting at the site of the bite or scratch. A coma slowly develops, and eventually death occurs. The paralytic form of rabies is often misdiagnosed, contributing to the under-reporting of the disease.

Anyone who may have been bitten by a rabid animal should seek treatment immediately.

While most bats are not rabid, the health organization says it’s crucial to identify whether any animal a person may have come into contact with has the disease.

If a bat or other animal cannot be tested for rabies, it’s safest to get the rabies post-exposure vaccine series.

If treated quickly after a potential exposure with the vaccine series — generally four doses administered in the arm over two weeks — humans are highly unlikely to develop symptoms.

“If you do not get the preventive treatment and you have symptoms of rabies, there isn’t a treatment that’s really been successful at helping people come out of that alive,” Illinois state public health veterinarian Connie Austin said.

Read more:

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More feline control in Italy after cat contracts rare rabies-like virus, bites owners

WHO report says animals likely source of COVID-19