An Illinois man is dead after contracting rabies from a bat and denying the recommended treatment, the Illinois Department of Public Health reported Tuesday. The strange incident marks the first human case of rabies in the state since 1954.
The Lake County resident, who was in his 80s and whose identity has not been released, woke up one day in mid-August to find a bat on his neck. After the incident, the bat was captured and tested positive for rabies. Wildlife experts went on to discover a bat colony in his home.
While the man "was advised he needed to start postexposure rabies treatment," he "declined," a statement from the department of public health said.
Earlier this month, the man began experiencing rabies symptoms, which included neck pain, headache, difficulty controlling his arms, finger numbness and difficulty speaking.
The department of public health announced Tuesday that he had died of the disease, after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed the rabies diagnosis.
"People who had contact with secretions from the individual were assessed and given rabies preventive treatment as needed," the department said.
"Rabies has the highest mortality rate of any disease," IDPH director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said.
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"However, there is life-saving treatment for individuals who quickly seek care after being exposed to an animal with rabies," Ezike said. "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."
The department of public health said that while cases of human rabies in the United States are rare, incidents of rabies exposure are still common, with around 60,000 Americans receiving the post-exposure "rabies shot" vaccination each year.
"Sadly, this case underscores the importance of raising public awareness about the risk of rabies exposure in the United States," Lake County Health Department executive director Mark Pfister said.
"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," he said.
Bats are the most common species to carry rabies in the state of Illinois, the department said. The animals are also known to harbor several other dangerous diseases and viruses, including coronaviruses.
Multiple large-scale studies have found that vaccines are safe. There is no scientific link between vaccines and autism, according to the Centers for Disease Control.