Wednesday, December 15, 2021

After bat exposure, Boise County man becomes first Idahoan to die of rabies since 1978

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A Boise County man has died of rabies, the first human case of the disease and subsequent death reported in Idaho since 1978.

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare and Central District Health reported the case to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which confirmed the diagnosis after testing at its lab, according to a Thursday news release.

A bat flew near the victim and got caught in his clothing while the man was on his property in late August. He did not believe he had been bitten or scratched, the news release said, but in October he became sick and was hospitalized in Boise. The bat exposure was discovered after the investigation into his illness began.

Central District Health and other public health officials are working to identify other people who might have been exposed. People who had close contact with the man who died “are being assessed and will be given rabies preventive treatment as needed,” according to the news release.

“This tragic case highlights how important it is that Idahoans are aware of the risk of rabies exposure,” Dr. Christine Hahn, state epidemiologist, said in the news release. “Although deaths are rare, it is critical that people exposed to a bat receive appropriate treatment to prevent the onset of rabies as soon as possible.”

In 2021, 14 bats have tested positive for rabies, according to the Department of Health and Welfare. In 2020, 17 bats tested positive for rabies out of 159 total bats that were tested.

Rabies has the highest mortality rate of any disease, according to the IDHW news release. An estimated 60,000 Americans receive postexposure treatment annually. The virus can lead to disease in the brain and it’s “almost always fatal” without treatment.

“Every year we have several people and pets exposed to rabies in our district, generally spring through fall,” said the CDH’s Lindsay Haskell, communicable disease control program manager. “We want our residents and visitors to Idaho to be informed of the risk of rabies, to take appropriate steps to limit risk, and to take action when necessary.”

If people have contact with a bat or find a bat in their bedroom, tent or cabin, health officials recommend that they try to capture the animal so that it can be tested. Preventive treatment is not needed if the bat is negative for rabies.

If the bat isn’t available for testing and there’s been a possible exposure, health officials may recommend treatment with the rabies vaccine and rabies immune globulin. The Department of Health and Welfare recommends that people call their doctor or local health department to determine how to proceed in those cases.

Idahoans have historically embraced vaccines, but not during COVID-19. What changed?

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