For the first time in 50 years, a middle-aged woman from the Sumter County of South Carolina, has been infected with human rabies, according to a statement by the state's health officials.

There are only about one to three cases of human rabies each year in this country, Dr. Eric Brenner, epidemiologist with the state Department of Health and Environmental Control's Bureau of Disease Control, was quoted by Reuters.

Tragically, rabies almost always ends in death, he said.

The rabies virus travels slowly through the body until it reaches the brain and central nervous system and produces serious initial symptoms including headache, difficulty swallowing, seizures, anxiety, agitation and confusion, he said, most patients die within a few weeks after the onset of these symptoms.

The woman is believed to have been bitten by a bat a few months ago. The Health and Environmental Control spokesman Jim Beasley declined to disclose more information about the woman due to the federal medical privacy laws.

Rabies, a viral disease causing acute inflammation of the brain, almost invariably leads to death in humans if the prophylactic treatment is not started immediately after exposure to the pathogen.

Humans contract the disease from bites of infected dogs, raccoons, foxes, bats, skunks and certain other wild animals. Human-to-human transmission of rabies has not been documented, except when induced medically, in special cases.