Massachusetts Rabies Case Blamed on Little Brown Bat

Published January 04, 2012

| Reuters

A Massachusetts man critically ill with the first reported case of human rabies in state since 1935 was infected by a type of bat called a little brown myotis, state health officials said.

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health said last week that the man, who has not been publicly identified, was diagnosed with the rare and potentially fatal disease and hospitalized in critical condition.

"I can confirm it was a little brown bat," said Jennifer Manley, spokeswoman for the Department of Health referring to a type of mouse-eared bat that is one of the most common varieties in North America.

Most cases of human rabies in the United States have been linked to exposure to bats, and Massachusetts officials had been awaiting confirmation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as to which species infected the man.

South Carolina health officials said last month that a middle-aged woman died after contracting the state's first case of human rabies in half a century.

The rabies virus, which is carried in the saliva of infected animals, is generally spread when an animal bites or comes in close contact with a human or another animal, Massachusetts health officials said.

The virus infects the central nervous system, ultimately causing disease in the brain and death.

Early symptoms of rabies in people are similar to those of many other illnesses, including fever, headache and general weakness or discomfort, according to the CDC.

Disease in humans can often be prevented by administering vaccine and antibodies quickly, if a person knows he or she has been exposed to rabies, officials say.

One to three human rabies cases are reported in the United States each year, mostly due to exposure to rabid bats. About 55,000 people die of rabies every year in other parts of the world, largely due to exposure to rabid dogs, officials say.

Rabies was first found in bats in Massachusetts in 1961.

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