LAKE COUNTY, Ill. — An Illinois man in his 80s died after contracting rabies from a bat that apparently bit him while sleeping in his home.
The Illinois Department of Public Health says the Lake County resident awoke to a bat on his neck in mid-August. The animal was captured and officials say it tested positive for rabies. Additionally, wildlife experts found a bat colony in the home.
The man was advised that he needed to start being treated for rabies, but he reportedly declined. A month later, he began experiencing symptoms consistent with rabies, including neck pain, headache, difficulty controlling his arms, finger numbness, and difficulty speaking. And he later died, according to the department of health.
Officials say those who had contact with secretions from the individual were assessed and given rabies preventive treatment as needed.
“Rabies has the highest mortality rate of any disease,” said IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike 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.”
This was the first human case of rabies reported by the state of Illinois since 1954. While cases of human rabies in the U.S. are rare, officials say exposures are still common with an estimated 60,000 Americans receiving the post-exposure vaccination series each year.
The rabies virus infects the central nervous system, ultimately causing disease in the brain and death. Without preventive treatment, rabies is typically fatal.
Officials say people usually know when they have been bitten by a bat, but the animals have very small teeth and the bite mark may not be easy to see. If you find yourself near a bat and are not sure if you were exposed, don’t release it as it should be captured for rabies testing. Call your doctor or local health department to determine if you could have been exposed to rabies and if you need preventive treatment. And call your local animal care and control to safely remove the bat.