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Idaho reports first human death due to rabies since 1978

Virus Outbreak Mexico Rare Bats
Posted at 2:21 PM, Nov 05, 2021

A man in Idaho has died from rabies after exposure to a bat on his property, according to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare. It marks the state's first human case and subsequent death from the viral disease since 1978.

Late in August, a man in Boise County came across a bat on his property which ultimately became caught in his clothing, officials said. The health department said the man did not believe he had been bitten or scratched by the animal but in October, he came down with a sickness and died in a Boise hospital.

His exposure to the bat was discovered only after an investigation into his illness began. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed a rabies diagnosis following lab testing.

"This tragic case highlights how important it is that Idahoans are aware of the risk of rabies exposure," Idaho's epidemiologist Dr. Christine Hahn said in a statement on 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."

This year, 14 bats have tested positive for rabies in Idaho, Idaho's Department of Health and Welfare said. Bats are the most commonly identified species with rabies in the state.

The disease can spread to people and pets when bitten or scratched by a rabid animal, according to the CDC. The virus affects the central nervous system and can ultimately result in death if medical care is not sought. Wounds from a bite or scratch can also cause serious injury like nerve or tendon laceration and infection. Anyone who has been in contact with wildlife should talk to a healthcare professional with urgency, the CDC said.

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare said people will usually know if they have been bitten by a bat, but warned that the animal has small teeth and that its bite marks can be difficult to see. The department advises anyone who has contact with a bat to not release it so that it can receive proper rabies testing.

"Every year we have several people and pets exposed to rabies in our district, generally spring through fall," Lindsay Haskell, the Central District Health Communicable Disease Control program manager, said in a statement. "We want our residents and visitors to Idaho to be informed of the risk of rabies, to take appropriate steps to limit risk, and to take action when necessary."

In September, a man in Illinois died from rabies after apparently being bitten by a bat — the first human case of rabies in the state since 1954.