Health officials say a Lake County resident in his 80s died after being exposed to a rabid bat last month. It is the first human case of rabies in Illinois since the 1950s.
Today, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed the diagnosis after testing at its lab.
A man in his 80s, who resided in Lake County, awoke to a bat on his neck in mid-August, according to the Lake County Health Department.
The bat was captured and tested positive for rabies, health officials said.
Wildlife experts also found a bat colony in the man’s home.
The man was advised he needed to start postexposure rabies treatment, but he declined.
One month later, the man started to experience symptoms consistent with rabies, including neck pain, headache, difficulty controlling his arms, finger numbness and difficulty speaking, health officials said.
The man later died. Individuals who had contact with his secretions were assessed and given rabies preventive treatment as needed.
It is the first human case of rabies in Illinois since 1954, health officials said.
Cases of human rabies are rare in the United States, with only one to three cases reported each year, health officials said.
However, exposure to rabies is still common with an estimated 60,000 Americans receiving post-exposure vaccination series each year.
The rabies virus infects the central nervous system, which ultimately causes disease in the brain. Without treatment, rabies is typically fatal.
According to health officials, bats are the most commonly identified species with rabies in Illinois.
30 bats have tested positive for rabies in Illinois so far this year. Out of more than 1,000 bats tested for rabies each year in the state, 3% come back positive for rabies.
Health officials say if you find yourself in close proximity to a bat and you are not sure if you have been exposed, do not release the bat as it should be captured by animal control for rabies testing.
Anyone who may have been exposed to rabies should call their doctor or local health department. It is not possible to tell if a bat has rabies just by looking at it, health officials say.
Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said, “Rabies has the highest mortality rate of any disease. 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,” Ezike added.
Lake County Health Department Executive Director Mark Pfister said, “Sadly, this case underscores the importance of raising public awareness about the risk of rabies exposure in the United States.”
“Rabies infections in people are rare in the United States; however, once symptoms begin, rabies is almost always fatal, making it vital that an exposed person receive appropriate treatment to prevent the onset of rabies as soon as possible,” Pfister added.