By MIKE STOBBE, AP Medical Writer
NEW YORK (AP) – Five Americans died of rabies last year, the most in a decade, and health officials said Thursday that some of the people did not realize they had been infected or rejected the vaccines that saved them. life.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report on three of the deaths, all stemming from contact with bats. CDC officials said the deaths were tragic and could have been prevented.
One, an 80-year-old man from Illinois, refused life-saving vaccines due to a long-standing fear of vaccines. An Idaho man and a Texas boy were not vaccinated because of the belief that no bat bite or scratch broke their skin.
In all three cases, people “either trivialized the exposure (to the bats) or did not recognize the severity of the rabies,” said Ryan Wallace, a CDC rabies expert and a co-author of the report.
Two other deaths occurred in early 2021. One was a Minnesota man bitten by a bat. He received the vaccines, but an undiagnosed immune system problem hampered their effectiveness, CDC officials said. The other victim was bitten by a rabid dog while traveling through the Philippines and died in New York after returning to the United States.
Rabies is caused by a virus that invades the central nervous system and is generally fatal in animals and humans. It is most commonly transmitted through the bite of an infected animal, and most infections in the US in recent years can be traced back to bat encounters.
The infection can cause insomnia, anxiety, confusion, paralysis, salivation, hallucinations, difficulty swallowing, and fear of water.
Death can occur only a couple of weeks after symptoms begin. But it can be prevented by a series of five injections given within two weeks of exposure.
An estimated 60,000 Americans receive treatment each year after possible exposure to rabies, according to the CDC.
No rabies deaths were reported in 2019 or 2020. The last time five rabies deaths were reported in the United States in a single year was in 2011, CDC officials said.
The Associated Press Department of Health and Science is supported by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.
Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.