illinois-man-dies-of-rabies-after-apparent-bat-bite

An Illinois man who awoke to find a bat on his neck weeks ago died this month in the state’s first human case of rabies since 1954, health officials said Tuesday.

The Lake County man, who was in his 80s, found the animal on his neck in mid-August and declined treatment, but a month later he experienced symptoms of rabies and died, the Illinois Public Health Department said in a statement.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed the diagnosis Tuesday.

Only one to three human rabies cases are reported in the U.S. each year. Once clinical symptoms appear, the disease is almost always fatal, according to the CDC.

The man in Lake County suffered symptoms of rabies, including neck pain, difficulty controlling his arms, finger numbness and difficulty speaking, the state health department said. A bat colony was found in his home.

“If you think you may have been exposed to rabies, immediately seek medical attention,” the health department’s director, Dr. Ngozi Ezike, said in a statement. He and others said they hoped the unfortunate case would raise awareness.

A vaccine can be given after exposure, and 30,000 to 60,000 people in the U.S. get treatment every year, the CDC says.

In the U.S., most rabies deaths in humans come after exposure to bats, according to the CDC, but any mammal can get it. Other common wildlife vulnerable to rabies are raccoons, skunks and foxes, it said.

Worldwide, rabies causes the most deaths in Asia and Africa, and dogs are the primary source of transmission to humans, according to the World Health Organization.

Phil Helsel is a reporter for NBC News.

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