🦇Bats kill 5 people in 2021 in the United States

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Five Americans died of rabies last year – the highest number in a decade – and health officials said Thursday that some of the people did not realize they were infected or refused injections that would have saved their lives.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a report on three of the deaths, all stemming from contacts with bats. Agency officials said the deaths were tragic and could have been prevented.

In one case, an 80-year-old man from Illinois refused the injections that would have cured him because of a deep-rooted fear of vaccines. An Idaho man and a Texas boy did not receive the injections because of a belief that they were not required because no bat bite or scratch broke their skin.

In all three cases, people “either trivialized the exposure (to bats) or did not recognize the severity of the rabies,” said Ryan Wallace, a CDC expert on the disease who is a co-author of the report.

Before those three deaths in 2021, another two occurred previously in the same year. One was that of a Minnesota man bitten by a bat. The individual received the injections, but an undiagnosed problem with his immune system hampered their effectiveness, CDC officials said. The other victim was bitten by a mad dog while visiting the Philippines and died in New York upon his return to the United States.

Rabies is caused by a virus that invades the central nervous system and is often fatal in animals and humans. It is mainly transmitted through the bite of an infected animal. Most of the cases in the United States in recent years have been attributed to bat encounters.

The infection can cause insomnia, anxiety, confusion, paralysis, salivation, hallucinations, difficulty swallowing, and fear of water.

Death can occur in just a couple of weeks after symptoms appear, but can be prevented with a series of five injections given within two weeks from the day of exposure to the virus.

About 60,000 Americans receive treatment each year after possible exposure to rabies, the CDC notes.

In 2019 and 2020, no deaths from this disease were reported in the United States. The last time five rabies deaths were reported in the country was in 2011, the agency added.

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