US sees increase in human rabies cases linked to bats: CDC

The United States has a high number of bat-related human rabies cases, with three deaths reported in just six weeks in the fall of 2021, authorities said.

The three deaths from human rabies were confirmed between September 28 and November 10, 2021, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Noted in its weekly Morbidity and Mortality Report (MMWR). The cases have occurred in one child and two adults in the states of Idaho, Illinois and Texas, all male.

All patients had direct contact with a bat in August 2021, approximately three to seven weeks before symptom onset, and all died within two to three weeks of symptom onset. Two of the cases were considered “preventable exposures,” the CDC Noted in a statement, one of the patients who picked up the bat with their bare hands.

None of the patients received post-exposure prophylaxis (DYNAMISM), which can protect people against the development of rabies. According to the agency, two of the patients were not fully aware of the risk of rabies posed by the exposures while one refused PEP even after the bat tested positive for rabies due to a “long-standing fear of vaccines”.

These cases bring the number of rabies cases in 2021 to five, the CDC noted. Two of the dead occurred earlier in 2021. By comparison, there were “no reported cases of rabies in humans in 2019 and 2020”. It is said to be the “highest number in a decade,” according to AP News.

“We have come a long way in the United States to reduce the number of people infected with rabies each year, but this recent spate of cases is a sobering reminder that contact with bats poses a real risk to health, “Ryan Wallace, DVM, MPH, veterinarian and rabies expert with the CDC’s Division of High Consequence Pathogens and Pathology, said in the release.

Cases of human rabies in the United States are generally took into consideration be “rare”. There are typically only one to three cases per year, with 25 cases reported from 2009 to 2018. Of those cases, seven were contracted outside the United States and its territories, the CDC noted.

“The number of rabid bats reported to the national rabies surveillance system has been stable since 2007, suggesting that this increase in rabies cases in humans may be due to a lack of awareness of the risks of rabies – and that getting PEP is a matter of life and death, ”the CDC noted.

The agency said bats are an “ecologically critical species,” but exposure to rabid bats is the leading cause of rabies in humans in the United States, accounting for 70% of those infected.

Avoid contact with bats would be the best way to protect both bats and human health, the agency noted.

Bites and scratches from a bat’s exposure can be so small that someone might not notice them. As such, it is essential to get PEP even if there was only one chance of contact, for example, if someone wakes up with a bat in the room, all the more so. that rabies is “almost always fatal” once symptoms develop.

If received before symptoms start to appear, PEP is “almost 100% effective” at preventing rabies.

“While it is tragic that five people needlessly lost their lives to rabies in 2021, they represent only a small fraction of Americans exposed to the disease each year,” said Wallace and another rabies expert. , Amber Kunkel, Recount USA TODAY. “This report is a sad and important reminder that direct contact with bats is one of the leading causes of rabies death in the United States.”

In case of contact or possible contact with a bat, it is best to call the local health department or animal control to help get the bat tested, and to contact your doctor to determine if you need PEP.

Photo: CDC / Dr. Makonnen Fekadu


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