According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), human rabies cases in the United States, thanks to modern day prophylaxis is almost non-existent with only one or two per year.
On Friday, the Wyoming Department of Health (WDH) reported the “first confirmed human rabies case ever” in the state in a Fremont County woman. Confirmation of the human rabies was done by the CDC.
Health officials note that while not all details are available, it appears the woman may have been exposed to the virus via bats, which are a known carrier of the rabies virus in Wyoming.
They are following up with potentially exposed family members and health care workers in Lander and Salt Lake City to see if they need post-exposure treatment.
Rabies is an acute viral infection that is transmitted to humans or other mammals usually through the saliva from a bite of an infected animal. It is also rarely contracted through breaks in the skin or contact with mucous membranes. It has been suggested that airborne transmission is possible in caves where there are heavy concentrations of bats.
According to the Control of Communicable Diseases Manual, all mammals are susceptible to rabies. Raccoons, skunks, foxes, bats, dogs, coyotes and cats are the likely suspects. Other animals like otters and ferrets are also high risk. Mammals like rabbits, squirrels, rodents and opossums are rarely infected.
Rabies infected animals can appear very aggressive, attacking for no reason. Some may act very tame. They may look like they are foaming at the mouth or drooling because they cannot swallow their saliva. Sometimes the animal may stagger (this can also be seen in distemper). Not long after this point they will die. Most animals can transmit rabies days before showing symptoms.
Initially, like in many diseases, the symptoms of rabies are non-specific; fever, headache and malaise. This may last several days. At the site of the bite, there may be some pain and discomfort. Symptomsthen progress to more severe: confusion, delirium, abnormal behavior and hallucinations. If it gets this far, the disease is nearly 100% fatal.
Although worldwide it is estimated that there are more than 69,000 deaths due to rabies annually.
Human rabies is prevented by administration of rabies vaccine and rabies immune globulin.