A Lake County man in his 80s is the first person to have contracted rabies in Illinois since 1954, according to state health officials, who said the man died from the infection.
It’s rare for people to get rabies infections. Only one to three cases are reported nationwide each year, according to officials, who say without preventive treatment, rabies is typically fatal as it infects the central nervous system.
The man awoke to a bat on his neck last month — the bat later tested positive for rabies — and was advised to begin post-exposure treatment for rabies but declined it. One month later, he began experiencing rabies symptoms, including neck pain, headache, difficulty speaking and controlling his arms, and finger numbness, according to officials.
“Rabies has the highest mortality rate of any disease,” said Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike in a statement. “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.”
Individuals who had contact with secretions from the Lake County man were assessed and given preventive rabies treatment as needed, according to officials.
Bats are the most commonly identified species with rabies in Illinois, according to officials, who said wildlife experts found a bat colony in the Lake County man’s home.
More than 1,000 bats are tested for rabies each year in Illinois due to a possible exposure, and approximately 3% are positive for rabies, according to IDPH. So far this year, 30 bats have tested positive for rabies in Illinois.
Anyone who comes in close proximity to a bat and is not sure if they were exposed should call their doctor or local health department to determine if they need preventive treatment.
Officials also urge residents who find a bat in their homes not to release it, but rather call their local animal care and control department to safely remove the bat so that it can be tested for rabies.
For more information about rabies, visit IDPH’s website.