The following is a news release from the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare.
BOISE – The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare and Central District Health report the first human case of rabies and subsequent death reported in Idaho since 1978. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed the diagnosis after testing at its laboratory.
“This tragic case highlights how important it is for Idahoans to be aware of the risk of rabies exposure,” said State Epidemiologist Dr. Christine Hahn. “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 late August, a Boise County man encountered a bat on his property. It flew close to him and got caught in his clothes, but he didn’t believe he had been bitten or scratched. In October, he fell ill and was hospitalized in Boise, where he later died. It was not until after the investigation into his illness began that the bat discovery was discovered.
Public health officials work closely with the family and health care providers. Central District Health is working with the hospital where he was treated to identify people who may have been exposed. Those who have had contact with the individual’s secretions are evaluated and will receive anti-rabies preventive treatment as needed.
Rabies has the highest death rate from any disease. While cases of human rabies in the United States are rare, rabies exposures are common, with an estimated 60,000 Americans receiving the post-exposure vaccination series each year. The rabies virus infects the central nervous system, ultimately causing disease in the brain and death. Without preventative treatment, rabies is almost always fatal.
“Idahoans are reminded that bats can become infected with rabies. While bats can be beneficial to our environment, people should be careful about any bat encounter, including waking up to a bat in your room, or any situation where there may have been a bite or scratch,” he said. Dr. Leslie Tengelsen, state public.
Bats are the most commonly identified species with rabies in Idaho. “Every year we have several people and pets exposed to rabies in our district, generally spring to fall,” said Lindsay Haskell, administrator of the Central District’s Health Disease Control Program. “We want our residents and visitors in Idaho to be informed of the risk of rabies so that they can take appropriate steps to limit risk and take action when necessary.”
People usually know when they have been bitten by a bat, but bats have very small teeth and the bite mark may not be easily visible. If you have contact with a bat or wake up to a bat in your bedroom, tent or cabin, and are not sure if you have been exposed, do not release the bat as it should be properly caught for rabies testing.
If the bat is available for testing and the results are negative, preventive therapy is not necessary. The only way rabies can be confirmed in a bat is by lab testing. You can’t tell just by looking at a bat if it has rabies.
Sometimes, the bat is not available for testing; in this case, if a possible discovery has occurred, therapy with rabies vaccine and rabies immunoglobulin may be recommended in case the bat was rabies.
Call your doctor or local health department to help determine if you might be exposed to rabies and if you need preventative treatment.
Fourteen bats have tested positive for rabies in Idaho so far in 2021. By 2020, 11 percent of the 159 bats that were tested were positive for rabies.