It's the first human case of rabies in Illinois since the 1950s.

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An Illinois man has died of rabies after waking up to find a bat in his room. The man, who has not been publicly identified, woke up and found the bat on his neck, before he was bitten.

The man was in his 80s and declined to be treated for rabies, even after the bat tested positive for the virus, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH). A month after the bite, the man started having symptoms of rabies, including neck pain, headache, difficulty controlling his arms, finger numbness, and trouble speaking. He died not long after. This was the first human case of rabies in Illinois since 1954.

Man Dies of Rabies After Bat Enters His Room
Credit: Photo by Tatiana Rodriguez on Unsplash

"Rabies has the highest mortality rate of any disease," IDPH director Ngozi Ezike, said in a press release. "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."

Wildlife experts later found a bat colony living in the man's home.

Human rabies cases in the US are rare—only one to three cases are reported each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). There were 25 cases of human rabies reported in the US between 2009 and 2018. This infectious disease is rare, but you'll probably want to know more about it and how to avoid contracting it.

What is rabies?

Rabies is a virus that's usually spread through the bite of a rabid animal. "You have to have exposure to an animal that has the disease," Aaron Glatt, MD, chairman of medicine and a hospital epidemiologist at South Nassau Communities Hospital in Oceanside, New York and a spokesperson for the Infectious Diseases Society of America, previously told Health.

How is rabies transmitted to humans?

While bites are the most common way rabies is spread from animals to humans, it's possible to get the virus from a scratch or other abrasion from an animal with rabies, Dr. Glatt said. There's a whole list of animals that can spread rabies to humans, including bats, raccoons, dogs, ferrets, skunks, foxes, coyotes, and woodchucks.

It's not always easy to tell when an animal is infected with rabies, which is why it's important to see medical attention when you're bitten by any animal if you're not sure of their vaccination status, Dr. Glatt added.

What are the symptoms of rabies?

Rabies symptoms usually include the following, according to the CDC:

  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Feeling unwell
  • Itching, prickling, and discomfort at the bite site

How is rabies treated?

Treatment involves a post-exposure protective dose of immune globulin and four doses of the rabies vaccine over a 14-day period, the CDC says. The vaccines are given in your arm like a flu or tetanus shot.

Without treatment, the virus progresses to invades the central nervous system, where it can cause these symptoms:

  • Anxiety
  • Confusion
  • Hallucinations
  • Fear of water
  • Excessive salivation
  • Insomnia
  • Paralysis

Once these symptoms have set in, the prognosis isn't usually good, Dr. Glatt explained, adding, "unfortunately, it can rapidly progress to death in just a couple of days."

That's why it's so crucial to seek care immediately after an animal bite. "Do not wait until you have symptoms," he said. "It may be too late at that time."

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