KEY POINTS

  • The Illinois man awoke in mid-August to a bat on his neck
  • He began experiencing symptoms "consistent with rabies" a month later
  • The CDC confirmed the rabies diagnosis Tuesday

An Illinois man has died of rabies, authorities confirmed Tuesday. This marks the state's first human case of the disease since 1954.

It was in mid-August when the Lake County man, who was in his 80s, woke up with a bat on his neck, the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) noted in a news release. Though the bat was captured and subsequently tested positive for rabies, the man reportedly declined to get a postexposure treatment for rabies.

Postexposure prophylaxis (PEP) for rabies is the "immediate" treatment for someone who has been exposed to rabies, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). It prevents the virus from getting into the central nervous system, "which results in imminent death."

About a month after the incident, the man began experiencing symptoms that are "consistent with rabies" such as finger numbness, headache and neck pain. He also had difficulty speaking and controlling his arms. Eventually, the man died.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed the diagnosis Tuesday and those who've had contact with secretions from the man "were assessed and given rabies preventive treatment as needed."

"Sadly, this case underscores the importance of raising public awareness about the risk of rabies exposure in the United States," Mark Pfister, executive director at Lake County Health Department, said in the IDPH news release. "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."

Authorities are urging people to be aware of bats that could possibly be in their homes.

"Although bats can carry the rabies virus, most bats are not infected with it," the IDPH noted. "The only way rabies can be diagnosed in a bat, however, is by laboratory testing."

As such, people who find themselves in close proximity to a bat but aren't sure if they got exposed to rabies are being advised not to release the mammal so it can be captured for testing. Instead, they should call animal care and control to help remove the bat safely as well as the local health department to determine if they need preventive treatment.

"Rabies has the highest mortality rate of any disease," Dr. Ngozi Ezike, director at IDPH, said in the news release. "However, there is life-saving treatment for individuals who quickly seek care after being exposed to an animal with rabies. If you think you may have been exposed to rabies, immediately seek medical attention and follow the recommendations of health care providers and public health officials."

Rabies_negri_bodies_brain Rabies still threatens over 3 billion people, mostly in Africa and Asia though the disease is still endemic to all continents. Though a vaccine exists which is 100 percent effective, tens of thousands of people still die from rabies each year. Photo: CDC/Dr. Makonnen Fekadu