A 55-year-old man in Missouri recently died of rabies. He was the first human rabies victim in that state in close to 50 years. He was apparently bitten by a bat in mid-October and started to show signs of rabies about six months later.
This tragic incident highlights a few important points. All bats should be considered rabid until proven otherwise. Any bite from a bat should be considered rabies exposure. If this person had received treatment for rabies exposure, he almost certainly would not have developed rabies. Post-exposure treatment consists of a dose of antibodies against the rabies virus as well as a series of 5 vaccinations over four weeks. These are normal vaccines given in the arm – not like the old horror stories of reaction-prone vaccines given in the abdomen.
- Treat every bat as rabid. If you are bitten or may have been bitten (i.e. you were asleep in a room with a bat), you should consider yourself exposed unless the bat is tested and shown to be negative.
- If you are exposed to rabies, get proper treatment. It’s not a big deal and it can save your life. See this post for my experience with bat rabies.
- Dogs and cats must be vaccinated against rabies. Even if they don’t go outside they can still be exposed. It’s also the law in most areas.
- Bat-proof your house. Seal up holes and crevices where bats may hide or through which they may get into your home.
- If you wake up in a room and see a bat, don’t let it out. It must be caught and tested for rabies, or you should receive post-exposure treatment. Bats can bite sleeping people without them noticing.
- Wildlife should want to stay away from people. Wild animals that are acting strangely or do not appear afraid of people could be rabid. Stay away from such animals and report them to your local animal-control official.