Officials with the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare and Central District Health reported the first human case of rabies and subsequent death in the state in early November. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed the diagnosis after lab testing.
The unidentified Boise County man encountered a bat on his property in late August. According to health officials, the bat flew near the man and became caught in his clothing. The man did not believe he had been bitten or scratched.
Two months later, the man became ill and was taken to a Boise hospital, where he later died.
Public health officials say they are working closely with the man’s family and healthcare providers, as well as determining who may have been exposed while he was in the hospital. Those who had contact with secretions from the man are being assessed and will receive rabies preventative treatment as needed.
While human cases of rabies in the U.S. are rare, exposures are common – an estimated 60,000 Americans receive the post-exposure vaccination series each year. The disease carries the highest mortality rate of them all, according to health officials. Because the rabies virus infects the central nervous system, the disease can affect the brain and become fatal. Without preventative treatment, rabies is almost always fatal, according to health experts.
“Every year we have several people and pets exposed to rabies in our district, generally spring through fall,” says Central District Health Communicable Disease Control Program Manager Lindsay Haskell. “We want our residents and visitors to Idaho to be informed of the risk of rabies, to take appropriate steps to limit risk, and to take action when necessary.”
While people usually know when they have been bitten by a bat, health officials say their small teeth can make the bite marks hard to see. If you have contact with a bat, or wake up to one in your bedroom, tent, or cabin, and are not sure if you were exposed, do not release the bat. It should be appropriately captured for rabies testing.
According to Idaho health experts, if the bat is available for testing and the results are negative, you will not need preventative treatment. Testing is the only way rabies can be confirmed in a bat. If the bat cannot be tested, treatment with the rabies vaccine and rabies immune globulin may be recommended in case the bat was rabid.
Idaho has reported 14 bats testing positive for rabies this year. Utah reported its first case in June.