Health

Bat bite kills Texas boy after first rabies case in years

A Texas boy died from rabies after being bitten by a bat, health officials revealed today.

The child, aged seven, had picked up a bat outside his apartment in Medina County, Texas in late August 2021.

He told his parents he had been bitten, but they put off taking him to hospital because were no teeth marks and he did not initially show symptoms.

Over two months he suffered a host of symptoms including vomiting and delusions, and after being misdiagnosed with shingles, died in October.

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His death – one of five fatal rabies cases in 2021 – was revealed today by the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC).

It marks the highest number in a decade. There had not been a single infection in 2019 or 2020.

It comes as the CDC warned in May that rabies could sneak back into the US through imported animals from high-risk countries.

The boy was playing outside his apartment in Medina County, Texas when he was bitten by a bat last year. He was one of five rabies deaths in 2021 — the highest number in the US in a decade

Bats are most often the cause of rabies in the US, despite people usually associating the disease with dogs

Bats are most often the cause of rabies in the US, despite people usually associating the disease with dogs 

Rabies is a viral disease transmitted by the bite of a rabid animal.

Rabid animals can include dogs, bats, coyotes, foxes, skunks and raccoons.

The disease is one of the world’s most deadly diseases, and is fatal in over 99 percent of cases.

Once rabies is established in a person, there is no effective treatment.

Because of this, people need to get a series of shots as soon as they think they have been exposed to rabies.

The boy did not receive the preventative treatment for rabies, known as postexposure prophylaxis (PEP), despite having told his parents of the bite.

The family did not realize that contact alone without bite marks could cause rabies.

The boy attended school and went about his normal life, without realizing he was infectious.

Two months later, the child was taken to an emergency department with an itchy hand and pain in his arm, where he was sent home with an oral steroid.

The next day he developed a rash down one side of his body. 

Doctors assumed it was shingles, and he was given a five-day course of antiviral drug acyclovir, antihistamines and ibuprofen.

His condition went quickly downhill, and a day later he became delusional and was given diazepam for spasms and gabapentin for pain.

The next day, he returned to the hospital with nausea, vomiting, excessive drooling and a fever of 104°F (40°C).

He was also more confused and delusional, and was given a tube to help his breathing.

Doctors thought he had a central nervous system infection, but all tests came back clear.

Only when they were given a detailed history that included the bat bite from two months ago did the doctors realize it could be rabies. 

Experimental treatments were tried, but the child died, 22 days after his symptoms had first appeared.

Had he been treated immediately after the bite, it is unlikely he would have developed rabies, the CDC said.

Bats are most often the cause of rabies in the US, despite people usually associating the disease with dogs.

If someone thinks they have been bitten by a bat or have come into contact with a bat, they should seek immediate medical attention, the CDC warned. 

Rabies: Death from a scratch 

Rabies is a viral infection which targets the nervous system and the brain.

It is deadly in almost every case left untreated — and has an incubation period of 20 to 60 days.

It is only spread by infected animals to humans, most often through the animal biting or scratching the person.

It can also be spread by an animal’s saliva being in contact with a graze or cut on a human’s skin. The majority of rabies cases result from being bitten by an infected dog.

The symptoms of the illness include high temperatures, numbness at the area where the bite occurred and hallucinations. Some victims also have hydrophobia, which is a fear of water.

There are about 55,000 cases of rabies worldwide each year with over 95 percent occurring in Africa and Asia. Half of all rabies cases occur in India.

Every year, more than 29 million people worldwide receive a post-bite vaccination. This is estimated to prevent hundreds of thousands of rabies deaths annually.

Source: WHO


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