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Vincent Iannelli, M.D.

Rabies Risk from Bats

By April 14, 2011

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A silver-haired bat that could have rabies - Photos/J. Ellison, CDCA recent report by the CDC of a Michigan man dying from rabies is a good reminder about the danger of human rabies.

That case involved an adult who woke up with a bat on his arm, but didn't think to seek medical attention.

It wasn't until nine months later that he began to have any symptoms, which began as pain and numbness in his hand and arm, lower neck pain, and upper back pain. Although treatment by a chiropractor improved his back pain, the numbness and tingling in his arm was worse, and by the time he went to an emergency room, he could not make a grip with his hand.

He continued to get worse in the hospital, as the working diagnosis was changed from a neurological condition, such as a cerebral vascular accident or Guillain-Barré syndrome, to an infectious disease, including West Nile, St. Louis encephalitis, and adenovirus, etc.

Testing for rabies was eventually done, once they discovered the history of the bat exposure, but it was already too late, as the patient was taken off life-support by the family just after that time and before the results came back positive.


Although people often think about the risk of rabies after getting bit by a dog, this case highlights the importance of getting medical attention after other potential exposures to rabies.

According to the CDC, 'the public should be aware of the risk for rabies associated with bats and should take appropriate actions after exposure, including contacting local authorities for guidance on how to safely capture and submit a bat for rabies diagnosis and consulting a physician or state or local health department for advice regarding rabies postexposure prophylaxis.'

Also remember, it is possible to get rabies from:

  • bats (any direct contact)
  • raccoons
  • skunks
  • foxes
  • coyotes
  • unvaccinated dogs
  • unvaccinated cats
  • unvaccinated ferrets

In addition to vaccinating your pets, you can help prevent rabies by teaching your kids to stay away from stray dogs and cats and to not touch any wild animals, whether they are dead or alive.

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