How surprised would you be to learn that people are still dying of rabies in the 21st century, even though the first rabies vaccine was developed in 1885?
How many people?
How Many People Die With Rabies Each Year?
Tragically, a lot of people still die of rabies because dog rabies is still out of control in many countries.
“Each year, rabies causes approximately 59,000 deaths worldwide.”Rabies around the World
And many of those countries don’t have easy access to rabies immunoglobulin and rabies vaccines.
“The number of rabies-related human deaths in the United States declined during the twentieth century, from more than 100 annually in the early 1900’s to just one or two per year since 1960. This decline can be attributed to successful pet vaccination and animal control programs, public health surveillance and testing, and availability of post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) for rabies.”Rabies in the U.S.
Surprisingly, deaths from rabies is on the rise again in the United States.
Instead of the usual one or two deaths per year that we usually see, there were five rabies deaths in the United States in 2021, including a child in Texas!
“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is raising awareness of the risks of rabies from bats in the U.S. after three people, including one child, died from rabies between late September and early November 2021. The three cases, described in the January 6, 2022, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, bring the total number of cases in 2021 to five, compared to no reported rabies cases in people during 2019 and 2020.”CDC Reports Increase in Human Rabies Cases Linked to Bats in the U.S.
What’s causing the increase in rabies cases and deaths?
“Exposure to rabid bats is the leading cause of rabies in humans in the U.S., accounting for 70% of people who become infected. The number of rabid bats reported to the National Rabies Surveillance System has been stable since 2007, which suggests that this uptick in cases of rabies in people may be due to a lack of awareness about of the risks of rabies – and that getting PEP is a life-or-death matter.”CDC Reports Increase in Human Rabies Cases Linked to Bats in the U.S.
Children and adults are getting exposed to rabid bats and they are not seeking quick treatment.
“Bat bites do not always cause a visible mark yet can still spread rabies virus through infected saliva – so any direct contact with a bat should be assessed by a clinical or public health provider. It typically takes anywhere between three weeks to three months, though sometimes more or less time, for people to develop symptoms if infected. PEP is effective in preventing rabies until symptoms develop. Once symptoms begin, rabies is nearly always fatal.”CDC Reports Increase in Human Rabies Cases Linked to Bats in the U.S.
To be sure, it can sometimes be confusing to understand just what exposure to a bat really means.
“All three patients had recognized direct contact (e.g., bite or collision) with a bat approximately 3–7 weeks before symptom onset and died approximately 2–3 weeks after symptom onset… One patient submitted the bat responsible for exposure for testing but refused PEP, despite the bat testing positive for rabies virus, due to a long-standing fear of vaccines. The other two patients did not realize the risk for rabies from their exposures, either because they did not notice a bite or scratch or did not recognize bats as a potential source of rabies.”Notes from the Field: Three Human Rabies Deaths Attributed to Bat Exposures — United States, August 2021
After all, its not like getting bitten by a rabid dog, which is typically obvious. Well, at least the part about being bitten by a dog – you might not know the dog had rabies…
“Any bat that is active during the day or is found in a place where bats are not usually seen – like in your home or on your lawn – might be rabid. A bat that is unable to fly and is easily approached could be sick.”Avoid risk of rabies from bats
Surprisingly, you could have been bitten by a bat and not even know it!
“Bat bites can be very small so a person might not always know when they have been bitten by a bat. PEP should also be considered when direct contact between a person and a bat might have occurred, and a bite or scratch cannot be confidently ruled out. For example, if you wake up with a bat in your room, you may have been exposed to rabies and should see your doctor or call your health department, even if you don’t feel a bite.”Bats
That’s why it is important to consider treatment or getting the bat tested if any potential contact with a bat occurred, including if:
- you wake up with a bat in your room (did it bite you while you were sleeping?)
- you pick up a bat with your bare hands
- a bat lands on you and gets caught in your hair, etc.
But why be so concerned if deaths from rabies are still so rare?
“Rabies can be prevented with timely administration of postexposure prophylaxis (PEP).”Vital Signs: Trends in Human Rabies Deaths and Exposures — United States, 1938–2018
Deaths from rabies is still so rare because so many people get rabies postexposure prophylaxis treatment each year, including rabies immune globulin and at least four doses of the rabies vaccine!
“During 2017–2018, an average of 55,000 (range = 45,453–66,000) persons were treated for potential rabies exposure each year.”Vital Signs: Trends in Human Rabies Deaths and Exposures — United States, 1938–2018
And what happens if some ignores the expert medical advice to get PEP after exposure to rabies?
“One patient submitted the bat responsible for exposure for testing but refused PEP, despite the bat testing positive for rabies virus, due to a long-standing fear of vaccines.”Notes from the Field: Three Human Rabies Deaths Attributed to Bat Exposures — United States, August 2021
As rabies is almost universally fatal, that’s hopefully not something we continue to see!
“Initial symptoms included pain and paresthesia near the site of exposure progressing to dysphagia, altered mental status, paralysis, seizure-like activity, and autonomic instability.”Notes from the Field: Three Human Rabies Deaths Attributed to Bat Exposures — United States, August 2021
Also remember that it isn’t just rabid bats that we are concerned about. To avoid rabies, don’t touch any wild animals, especially raccoons, skunks, bats, and foxes, and don’t pet dogs or cats that you don’t know.
And of course, get your pets vaccinated and protected against rabies.
More on Rabies Deaths
- What to Do If Your Child Is Exposed to Rabies
- When Was the Last Time Someone Died from Being Bitten by a Rabid Dog in the United States?
- A Rabies Case in Utah
- A 6-year-old in Florida With Rabies Has Died
- Who is Joseph Meister
- Grave Reminders of Life Before Vaccines
- Personal Stories About Vaccine-Preventable Diseases
- Parents Who Regret Not Vaccinating Their Kids
- CDC – Rabies around the World
- CDC – Rabies in the U.S.
- CDC Reports Increase in Human Rabies Cases Linked to Bats in the U.S.
- MMWR – Notes from the Field: Three Human Rabies Deaths Attributed to Bat Exposures — United States, August 2021
- CDC – Human Rabies
- MMWR – Vital Signs: Trends in Human Rabies Deaths and Exposures — United States, 1938–2018
- ACIP Recommendations on Use of a Reduced (4-Dose) Vaccine Schedule for Postexposure Prophylaxis to Prevent Human Rabies
- CDC – Avoid risk of rabies from bats
- World Rabies Day
- WHO – Vaccinating against rabies to save lives
- Only a homeopath has a belief system bizarre enough to defend a remedy based on spit from a rabid dog
- Naturopathy: Using homeopathic saliva from a rabid dog to cure growling, aggression, and a fear of werewolves
- Vaccinate dogs – they are not going to get autism from vaccines