I realize headline writers are trying to attract attention, and sometimes they don’t know much about the content. As a result, some headlines are quite over the top, and that can freak people out. Here are some examples from the past couple of days:

4 year old girl catches life-threatening infection by trying on shoes while barefoot

In this case, the girl got an abrasion on her foot. Any break in the skin can lead to an infection, although infections aren’t common and serious ones are rare. Unfortunately, she got a serious one and developed sepsis, which is an infection coursing through her bloodstream.

Any minor wound can potentially lead to a serious problem, but it’s rare so context is important. Parent’s shouldn’t be afraid to have their kids try on shoes. That’s a pretty low risk activity.

Wellington County, Ontario swimmers might have been exposed to rabies: health unit

No, rabies virus hasn’t suddenly become a waterborne pathogen that is exposing swimmers to a fatal disease while swimming anywhere in the county. Rather, the health unit was informing people that might have encountered a sick bat that was pulled from a local lake that they might have been exposed.

Swimming… no risk.

Touching a sick bat that happened to be in the water… risk.

There’s a difference.

Canadian woman contracts rabies from bat bite while she was sleeping

Media reports do not uncommonly mess up “getting exposed to a rabid animal” and “getting rabies.” Usually, the issue is getting exposed to a rabid animal, as was the case with this person. It’s actually a success story from a public health standpoint (not so much from the bat’s perspective, though).

The quick version:

  • Woman wakes up when bat bites her arm.
  • She realizes rabies is a concern.
  • She catches the bat… (something that was easier in this case than my own household encounter with a rabid bat, since this one wasn’t flying much)
  • The bat is submitted for testing and is determined to have rabies.
  • The woman undergoes post-exposure prophylaxis.
  • Life goes on.

That’s a textbook response and it all started with some basic rabies awareness on the part of the person who was bitten. Without that, we might have been talking about a rare human rabies case in Canada in the next couple months.

Image: Big brown bats are one of the most common species of bats found in Ontario. (Photo credit: USFWS/Ann Froschauer)