Rabies kills Idaho man in state’s first human case of virus in 43 years

BOISE COUNTY, Idaho — Idaho health officials on Thursday confirmed the state’s first fatal case of rabies in a person since 1978.

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The man, who has not been identified publicly, reported that a bat flew near him on his Boise County property in late August and became entangled in his clothing, but he did not think that he had been bitten or scratched, the Coeur D’Alene Press reported.

In October, however, the man fell ill, was hospitalized and died shortly thereafter, but health officials did not discover his bat exposure until after the investigation into his illness began, the newspaper reported.

“This tragic case highlights how important it is that Idahoans are aware of the risk of rabies exposure,” State Epidemiologist Dr. Christine Hahn said in a prepared statement issued Thursday.

“Although deaths are rare, it is critical that people exposed to a bat receive appropriate treatment to prevent the onset of rabies as soon as possible,” Hahn added.

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The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed the rabies diagnosis after testing at its lab, KTVB reported.

According to the CDC, the rabies virus infects the central nervous system, and “if a person does not receive the appropriate medical care after a potential rabies exposure, the virus can cause disease in the brain, ultimately resulting in death.”

The rabies virus is typically spread through bites of infected animals, though it can also be transmitted when infected saliva enters through the eyes, nose, mouth or a cut in the skin, the agency stated, noting that only about one to three human rabies cases are recorded nationwide each year.

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While cases of human rabies in the United States are rare, rabies exposures are common, with about 60,000 Americans receiving the post-exposure vaccination series each year, KTVB reported.

The CDC recommends preventing the risk of contracting rabies by vaccinating pets, steering clear of wildlife and seeking medical care after potential exposures before symptoms start.

Bats are the most commonly identified species with rabies in Idaho, KTVB reported.

According to the Coeur D’Alene Press, 14 bats have tested positive for rabies in Idaho to date in 2021, and 11% of the 159 bats tested for the virus statewide in 2020 were positive for rabies.

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