WASHINGTON – A 24-year-old American soldier died of rabies after being bitten by a dog last year in Afghanistan, US health officials said Thursday following an investigation into the rare case.
The otherwise healthy soldier started experiencing symptoms of shoulder and neck pain and tingling sensations in his hands soon after arriving at Fort Drum, N.Y., in mid-August 2011.
His condition escalated to include nausea, vomiting, anxiety and trouble swallowing. By the time he was admitted to an emergency room, he was dehydrated and hydrophobic, meaning he developed an intense fear of drinking liquids because of the painful muscle spasms he experienced while swallowing.
"He was lucid and described having received a dog bite on the right hand during January 2011 while deployed to Afghanistan," said the report by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The soldier tested positive for a strain of rabies associated with dogs in Afghanistan and doctors attempted an experimental treatment to save him from certain death.
But within days, the patient was suffering from severe brain hemorrhaging and his family decided to take him off life support. He was the first US service member to die of rabies since 1974.
At the time of the bite, the soldier told family members and close friends that he had been bitten by a feral dog in Afghanistan and had sought medical treatment, "which he described as wound cleansing and injections," the report said.
But an investigation by the US Army turned up no documentation of a reported bite wound or treatment, nor any record of a dog tested for rabies, according to the report.
The soldier's case prompted a scare that he may have spread the disease other people and a CDC investigation tracked down about 190 individuals he interacted with while potentially infectious.
At least 22 of them received treatment as a preventive measure.
Rabies can spread through saliva, tears, spinal fluid or brain tissue that enters the body through a bite a broken skin. With the exception of transplantation, the CDC said "human-to-human rabies transmission has not been laboratory-documented."