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Man with colony of bats in home dies in first human case of rabies in state since 1954

By Brett Rowland | The Center Square

(The Center Square) – State public health officials reported the first human case of rabies in Illinois since 1954 after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed the diagnosis Tuesday after testing at its lab.

In mid-August, a Lake County resident in his 80s awoke to a bat on his neck. The bat was later captured and tested positive for rabies. The man declined post exposure rabies treatment. A month later, he began experiencing rabies symptoms, including neck pain, headache, difficulty controlling his arms, finger numbness and difficulty speaking. Experts found a bat colony in the man’s home, according to a news release from the Illinois Department of Public Health

The man, who was not identified in the news release, later died. Officials said people who had contact with secretions from the man were assessed and given rabies preventive treatment as needed.

“Rabies has the highest mortality rate of any disease,” IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said in a statement. “However, there is life-saving treatment for individuals who quickly seek care after being exposed to an animal with rabies. If you think you may have been exposed to rabies, immediately seek medical attention and follow the recommendations of health care providers and public health officials.”

An estimated 60,000 people in America are exposed to rabies each year. However, human cases rabies in the United States are rare, with about 1 to 3 cases reported each year. The rabies virus infects the central nervous system, ultimately causing disease in the brain and death. Without preventive treatment, it is usually deadly, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health. 

While people usually know when if have been bitten by a bat, bats have very small teeth and the bite mark may not be easy to see. Anyone in close proximity to a bat and not sure if they were exposed should seek medical attention. Anyone who wakes up with a bat in the house should not release the bat. It should be captured for rabies testing, according to public health officials. Local animal care and control agencies can safely remove the bat.

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