Illinois man dies of rabies after contact with bat, declining treatment

An Illinois man has died from rabies. It was the first human case of rabies in the state since 1954.

In August, a Lake County resident in his 80s woke up to a bat on his neck, health officials said. The bat was captured and tested positive for rabies.

Health officials urged the man to begin treatment, but he declined. About a month later, the man began having rabies symptoms — neck pain, headache, difficulty controlling his arms, finger numbness and difficulty speaking.

Soon after, he died from the infection, which attacks the central nervous system, causing disease in the brain.

"Rabies has the highest mortality rate of any disease," Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said in a statement. "However, there is life-saving treatment for individuals who quickly seek care after being exposed to an animal with rabies."

Cases of human rabies in the US are rare with only one to three cases reported each year, according to health officials.

"Rabies infections in people are rare in the United States; however, once symptoms begin, rabies is almost always fatal, making it vital that an exposed person receive appropriate treatment to prevent the onset of rabies as soon as possible," Lake County Health Department Executive Director Mark Pfister said.

Wildlife experts say they did find a bat colony in the home of the man who died.


In Illinois, bats are the most common animal species infected with rabies.

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Experts say people will usually know if they’ve been bitten by a bat. However, sometimes a bite mark is not easy to see.

"If you find yourself in close proximity to a bat and are not sure if you were exposed, (e.g., you wake up and find a bat in your room), do not release the bat as it should be appropriately captured for rabies testing.  Call your doctor or local health department to help determine if you could have been exposed to rabies and if you need preventive treatment. Call your local animal care and control to safely remove the bat," the Illinois Department of Public Health said in a statement.

In Illinois this year, 30 bats have so far tested positive for rabies.