RABIES in the United States is rare but can be fatal if not treating right away.
The disease is typically passed through bites or scratches and could require a series of shots if diagnosed.
What is rabies?
Rabies is known as a deadly virus that is typically spread through a bite or scratch from an infected animal.
In rare cases it can also be spread through saliva.
The infection is common worldwide but is predominantly found in Asia, Africa, and Central and South America.
Some of the animals that are most likely to spread the disease are dogs, bats, coyotes, foxes, skunks and raccoons.
In the United Sates, rabies is considered extremely rare and there are typically fewer that 1,000 cases per year.
What are the first symptoms of rabies in humans?
After a bite or other rabies exposure, the virus can take weeks or months to start causing symptoms.
This timeframe is what doctors call the incubation period in which the virus is traveling through the body and to the brain.
Some of the most common symptoms of rabies includes:
- Excess salivation
- Muscle spasms
- mental confusion
Symptoms will typically start out as flu-like and get more aggressive as time goes on.
Some people also experience discomfort or a prickling/itching sensation at the site of the initial bite.
When was the last rabies death in the United States?
On September 29, 2021, it was reported that an Illinois man had died after waking up to find a bat biting his neck in mid-August.
The bite left him unable to speak and caused paralysis.
Following the events, the man , who was in his 80s, was offered post-exposure treatments but he apparently declined according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.
The man's death is the first one in the state since 1954.
"Rabies has the highest mortality rate of any disease," said Dr. Ngozi Ezike – director of the Illinois Department of Public Health 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."
In Illinois, bats are the most common species to carry rabies with at least 30 bats testing positive for rabies every year.
Other notable rabies cases in the United States include:
- July 2021: 200 zoo visitors were urged to get rabies shot after being exposed Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium in Nebraska
- June 2021: 12 people were exposed after a rabid dog came from Azerbaijan to O'Hare International Airport in Chicago
- June 2021: Teen Mom star Kailyn Lowry revealed that her and her kids got rabies in their Delaware home
- June 2020: Oklahoma Department of Health confirmed 20 cases of rabies which almost killed a mom and her dog
- November 9, 2009, a Michigan man was hospitalized 9 months after getting bit by a bat, he did not seek a medical evaluation after the events
What should you do if you are bitten or scratched?
If you've been bitten or scratched by an animal in an area with a risk of rabies you should immediately clean the wound with running water and soap for several minutes.
After this, you must disinfect the wound with an alcohol- or iodine-based disinfectant and apply a simple dressing.
After the wound is addressed, you should see a doctor as soon as possible and they will determine if you need a rabies vaccination or not.
Post-exposure treatment is nearly 100 per cent effective if it's started before any symptoms of rabies appear.
Some cases will require immunoglobulin, which is administered into and around the wound.
This provides short-term protection if there is a significant chance of infection in the wound.
Treatment should ideally begin within a few hours of being bitten, but can be delayed up to 24 hours if needed.
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