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A man woke up in the middle of the night with a rabid bat on his neck and became the first person to die of rabies in an American state since 1954.
The man, who was in his 80s, was bitten by the beast in mid-August and was warned to get treatment for post-exposure rabies but he declined.
The Illinois Department of Public Health said on Tuesday that the bat was captured and tested positive for the disease.
One month later, the pensioner started to experience frightening symptoms such as neck pain, headaches, numbness, difficulty controlling his arms as well as difficulty speaking.
Anyone that had come into contact with the man has been provided with preventative rabies treatment if needed, the states health department confirmed.
“Rabies has the highest mortality rate of any disease,” IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said in a news release.
“However, there is life-saving treatment for individuals who quickly seek care after being exposed to an animal with rabies.
"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.”
Humans cases of rabies are exceedingly rare – with only one to three cases reported in the United States each year. But, rabies exposures are still common with an estimated 60,000 Americans receiving post-exposure vaccines each year.
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The rabies virus attacks the central nervous system, which causes disease in the brain and is typically fatal without preventive treatment.
“Sadly, this case underscores the importance of raising public awareness about the risk of rabies exposure in the United States,” said Lake County Health Department Executive Director Mark Pfister.
“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.”
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The health department added that bats are the most “commonly identified species with rabies” in Illinois and that a bat colony was discovered in the home of the man who died.
And although people usually know if they have been bitten by a bat – the creature also have very small teeth which makes bite marks hard to see, the department noted.
The states health department urged people who find themselves near a bat to try and capture it if they are unsure whether they have been exposed.
It has been reported that 30 bats have tested positive for rabies in Illinois this year.
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