In March, a 34-year-old man from Central Contra Costa reached his hand into a plastic bag that contained a rabid bat and was bitten.
After travelling extensively around the world, the man died in a hospital in Switzerland, according to officials with the Contra Costa Health Services (CCHS) Department.
It is the first case of an American contracting the diseases over here and dying from it on foreign soil. The man came in contact with a number of people along the way, several of whom underwent treatment for rabies as a precaution.
“Tragically, this man died from rabies,” said Erika Jenssen, Contra Costa Health Services Communicable Disease Program Chief. “To be safe, people should not handle wildlife, especially bats. It’s critical that people who have been bitten by bats or wild animals seek medical attention immediately.”
The moral of the story--if you see a bat writhing on the ground, or even if it seems to be dead, don’t touch it. Bats are the primary carriers of rabies in the animal world these days, and rabies is always fatal if it’s not treated before the onset of symptoms.
According to CCHS, three rabid bats were found in Contra Costa this year. Last year, 211 of the 223 animals testing positive for rabies were bats.
“The vast majority of bats pose no risk of rabies,” said Curtis Fritz, Stat Public Health Veterinarian with the California Dept. of Public Health. “However, a bat that behaves unusually, such as lying on the ground or being active during the daytime, is of greater concern and people should not attempt to handle it but should contact their local animal control agency.”
What is rabies: According to CCHS, rabies is a deadly viral infection that can infect humans and animals. It is nearly 100 percent fatal if not treated prior to the onset of symptoms.
Who gets rabies: Any human or mammal, including bats, skunks, raccoons, foxes, coyotes, cats, dogs, and farm animals can all become infected.
How is rabies spread: The rabies virus is spread through the saliva of an infected animal. Humans and animals can get rabies when bitten by a rabid animal or when saliva or neurologic tissue from a rabid animal enters the eyes, nose, mouth or a break in the skin. Handling of a rabid bat can lead to rabies infection, even when no noticeable bite occurs. Human to human transmission is extremely rare, but possible if saliva or neurologic tissue of an infected person comes into contact with the eyes, mouth, nose, genitals or a break in the skin of an uninfected person.
What should you do if you think you have been exposed: Wash the wounds thoroughly, seek immediate medical attention and contact Contra Costa Animal Services at (925) 335-8300 and Contra Costa Public Health at (925) 313-6740. If treatment is needed, vaccines (given in the arm) and human rabies immunoglobulin are administered to prevent the onset of rabies. Symptoms include:
- Behavior changes, including depression and aggression;
- Decreased appetite;
- Excessive salivation
- Irritation, prickling or itching sensations at the site of the bite;
- Fever, headache;
- Confusion, stress and anxiety;
- Impaired swallowing.