Minnesota man dies of rabies

Bites from bats are an increasingly common way for humans to contract rabies.
Photo courtesy of U.S. Department of Agriculture

A 40-year-old Minnesota man has died from a rabies infection. Minnesota Department of Health officials say they believe the man was infected after being bitten by a bat sometime in mid-August.

The man told health workers that he felt a pin-prick on his skin when handling the bat. But the victim reportedly did not think he had been bitten because he didn't see any blood.

Epidemiologist Richard Danilla says rabies deaths are very rare.

"In Minnesota, in recorded history anyway, there have only been four other cases, in 1917, 1964, 1975 and 2000," says Danilla. "So this is our fifth case in recorded Minnesota history of having rabies in a human."

The Minnesota Department of Health is working with several health care facilities where the man was treated to make sure that health care workers were not directly exposed to infected saliva.

Most recent cases of rabies in humans in the U.S. have been due to bat bites that were not recognized or reported.

Danilla says it's sometimes hard to detect a bat bite because the animal's teeth are very small and sharp.

"Therefore they don't seek any medical advice or any medical treatment," says Danilla. "In recent years in the United States, a large proportion of the cases are associated with bat bites. And a large proportion of those are people that failed to recognize that they were actually bitten by the bat."

Danilla says if a person has any physical contact with a bat, the bat should be captured and tested for rabies and medical advice should be sought.

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