Following the deaths of three people from rabies infection, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has warned people against handling bats. The three male persons died between September 28, 2011, and November 10, 2022, in Idaho, Illinois, and Texas – one of them was a child.
The total number of recorded rabies infection cases last year was five, even though there were no confirmed cases in 2019 and 2020. Dr. Ryan Wallace, a veterinarian and rabies expert in the CDC’s Division of High-Consequence Pathogens and Pathology, warned that there is always the risk of rabies infection when bats are handled.
“We have come a long way in the United States towards reducing the number of people who become infected each year with rabies, but this recent spate of cases is a sobering reminder that contact with bats poses a real health risk,” Wallace stated.
According to the CDC, one of the deceased had a bat roost in his home and the other picked up a bat with his bare hands. Although the three persons died within three weeks of exposure to rabies in bats, they were not given vaccines that could have neutralized the infection. One of them had a phobia for vaccines.
Rabies is an acute viral disease of the nervous system that is often transmitted when an infected animal such as a bat, dog, raccoon, skunk, or fox bites people. The virus is more deadly when it spreads to the brain of the exposed individual, and it becomes highly fatal when the person begins to show symptoms such as fever, vomiting, inability to eat, hallucination, and confusion.
People who are not often aware that they have rabies until they are tested or the animal that bit them is tested. The virus spreads from the saliva of an infected animal following a bite, or through contact with a cut in the skin.
The CDC warns that people should call the local health department if they find a bat in their homes or offices so that the animal can be trapped and tested for rabies. Anyone who handled them is advised to wash their hands immediately with soap and water. People should also speak up to get post-exposure shots if they have been bitten or are in close contact with bats.