The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced the first death linked to a vampire bat. The victim’s mother reported that her son was bitten by a vampire bat on his heel while he was sleeping. At the time, the bite was not reported or treated in Mexico, where the bite occurred.
The symptoms were not relieved; the victim was treated in a hospital for a spinal tap, where the doctors found he had an elevated white blood cell count. He was admitted into the hospital for supervision by doctors, who thought he might have Guillain-Barré syndrome - a disease of the nerves characterized by paralysis and numbness. Then he developed respiratory problems. His pupils became fixed and dilated and his white cell count continued to rise. Other tests for other diseases were run, including HIV, syphilis, and Lyme disease. All these tests came back negative, which led doctors to think that the victim had rabies. At the time no known exposure to animals was noted.
This case displayed a 15-day incubation period, which was dramatically shorter than the average 85-day incubation period noted for other human rabies cases in U.S. After the victim’s death, people were contacted in the U.S. and Mexico about the exposure risks. This case represents the first case of human rabies in U.S. linked to vampire bats. In Latin America, vampire bats represent the number one cause of human rabies in the last 10 years.
This case of rabies may reflect that Latin American bats are moving north due to climate change, which may expand the human and animal risk of exposure. These bats can also carry other diseases and further education about rabies risk and how to avoid these infected animals is needed.
A spokesperson for the Centers for Disease Control reports there are still 15 passengers from Delta flight 5121 they need to contact. Health officials want to make sure they are protected against rabies. The CDC says it has spoken with 35 of the 50 people who were on the August 5 flight from Madison to Atlanta and none have required any treatment. The plane was in the air when a bat started flying from one end of the cabin to another. It isn't known if the bat had rabies because it got away without being captured. The CDC says it just wants to make sure the passengers didn't have close contact with the bat, putting them at risk of rabies.