I still sometimes have clients that are reluctant to have their pets vaccinate for rabies. Events of the past few weeks however remind us that rabies is still a very real public health risk.
The Washington post reported that a bat was found in an airline flight from Wisconsin to Atlanta. The Baltimore Sun reported that a migrant worker in Louisiana was confirmed to have died from rabies that he contracted from the bite of a vampire bat. The bat on the flight from Wisconsin escaped before it could be tested for rabies and no one reported being bitten. Still the incidence has sparked a nationwide search by the CDC to make sure that no one had close contact with the creature which could have resulted in rabies exposure.
The incidents are not related and the migrant worker was reportedly bitten by the bat in his native Mexico, but it does underscore the need to be careful when around bats, especially when traveling to foreign countries.
Bats are a vital part of the environment because of their role in controlling insects, but the CDC reports that about 6% of bats submitted for rabies testing in United States are positive for the virus. Vampire bats are native only to Mexico and South America and only rarely spread rabies to humans. They feed on blood and animals as their main prey but occasionally humans have been bitten. In this case it resulted in the death of the individual in Louisiana.
The Hearld-mail.com reported that as many as ten local residents in Maryland’s Washington County are undergoing rabies treatment after being bitten by raccoons or in one case a cat. The Post and courier reported that two boys in Berkeley County, S.C., received treatment after a stray cat that scratched them was diagnosed with rabies.
Rabies is usually spread to humans by the bite of an infected animal. However there have been other instances , at least one documented case of rabies was contracted from a corneal transplant, and one in a spelunker who contracted rabies after exploring a cave in which he caught rabies by inhaling the virus.
It may be unlikely, but catching rabies and dying from it is a real possibility, especially if you handle wildlife or stray animals. If you see a sick bat or other wild animal don’t touch it, call your local public health or wildlife official. If you have been bitten by any type of an animal whether wild or domestic, contact local public health authorities as they may suggest testing for rabies to determine if you have been exposed.