ATLANTA, Georgia: Three Americans, including a child who contracted rabies after being exposed to bats, died over a six-week period last year, prompting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to issue a warning on January 5 about the risk of rabies.
The total number of rabies cases in the United States in 2021 was five, which officials say is a cause for concern, given that there were no cases reported in the U.S. in 2019 and 2020.
"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," said Dr. Ryan Wallace, a veterinarian and rabies expert in the CDC's Division of High-Consequence Pathogens and Pathology.
The deaths occurred between Sept. 28, 2021 and Nov. 10, 2021, with one case each in Idaho, Illinois and Texas, according to a report published by the CDC.
Two of the deaths were described as "avoidable exposures." One involved a bat roost in a person's home and the other resulted from a person picking up the bat with bare hands.
None of the three patients, all male, received post-exposure shots that prevent the rabies virus from infecting a person and causing symptoms to develop.
Once a person develops fever, vomiting, difficulty swallowing, confusion and hallucinations, it means the disease has progressed to the point where it is usually fatal.
The CDC warned the public to never touch or handle bats, which are the leading cause of rabies in humans-- accounting for 70 percent of infections in the U.S. Raccoons, skunks, and foxes also carry rabies in the U.S.
Infected bats spread the virus through their saliva, typically from a bite, but the saliva can also enter the human body through a cut or break in the skin.
If a person has come into contact with a bat, the CDC recommends calling the state or local health department so the animal can be trapped for testing.
It also recommended washing the wounds with soap and water and seeking immediate medical advice to determine whether post-exposure shots are needed, which are highly effective in preventing death.