Illinois Department of Public Health

Man Dies After Contracting Rabies, Marking Illinois' First Human Case of the Virus Since 1954

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The first human case of rabies has been reported in Illinois since 1954, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

A Lake County resident in his 80s woke up with a bat on his neck in mid-August, the health department said. The bat was caught and tested positive for rabies.

The man was told he needed to begin post-exposure rabies treatment, but declined, according to the health department.

One month later, IDPH said the man started feeling symptoms consistent with rabies, such as neck pain, headache, difficulty controlling his arms, finger numbness and difficulty speaking. 

The man later died, IDPH said.

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

People who were in contact with secretions from the man were assessed and given preventative treatment for rabies, according to a release.

“Rabies has the highest mortality rate of any disease,” said IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike.  “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.”

IDPH noted that human rabies cases are rare in the U.S., with typically one to three cases reported each year. Exposure to rabies is common, though, with about 60,000 Americans receiving post-exposure vaccines each year.

Rabies infects the central nervous system, IDPH added, causing disease in the brain and, ultimately, death. The virus is typically fatal without preventative treatment.

"Bats are the most commonly identified species with rabies in Illinois," IDPH said in a release. "Wildlife experts did find a bat colony in the home of the individual who died."

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