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Illinois man dies of rabies after state's first human case in 70 years

Illinois man dies of rabies after state's first human case in 70 years
Between one and three cases of the highly fatal rabies virus are identified in the United States each year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. File image by Horoscope/Shutterstock

Sept. 29 (UPI) -- An Illinois man who was bitten by a bat last month and subsequently died has been diagnosed with rabies, becoming the first known human case of the virus in the state in nearly 70 years, officials said.

State health officials said in a statement that the case was identified as a Lake County resident in his 80s who was bitten in the neck by a bat in mid-August.

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The bat, officials said, was captured and tested positive for the virus. However, the man declined treatment for the disease despite being advised to start post-exposure medicine. He later began to experience neck pain, headaches, difficulty controlling his arms and other symptoms consistent with rabies, before dying of the disease.

The Illinois Department of Public Health said the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed the diagnosis on Tuesday.

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"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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Illinois health officials said the virus, which is most commonly identified in bats in the state, infects the central nervous system and is typically fatal without treatment.

According to the CDC, only between one and three cases of rabies are reported each year though more than an estimated 60,000 Americans receive post-exposure vaccination every 12 months.

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The federal agency said only 25 cases of the disease have been reported in the country between 2009 and 2018, with seven of them having contracted the virus outside the country. Of those 25 cases, all but two died.

"Rabies has the highest mortality rate of any disease," said IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike. "If you think you may have been exposed to rabies, immediately seek medical attention and follow the recommendations of healthcare providers and public health officials."

Illinois health officials said the last time a human case of rabies in the state was confirmed was in 1954. So far this year, 30 bats in the state have tested positive for the disease, officials said, stating more than 1,000 bats are tested each year due to possible human exposure to the virus.

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