Students at a northwest Omaha middle school found a rabid bat on the school grounds last week. Bats are on the move this time of year and are looking for warm places to stay. While human exposure to rabies is extremely rare it can happen. University of Nebraska Medical Center’s Director of Infectious Diseases Dr. Mark Rupp says there are only one or two cases of human rabies reported each year in the U.S. but it remains a top concern. He says there are several ways to get rabies and all include contact with an infected animal.
Dr. Rupp says, “The way this is transmitted is through the bite of a rabid animal so you actually have to have the saliva get across your skin and into the blood stream. On rare occasions it is thought you can inoculate through mucous membrane exposure. So, if you got bat saliva or some other infected animal saliva in your eyes or mouth or something like that, you would also be at risk.”
The incubation period can take a few days, months or even years. Symptoms include numbness at the bite site, fever, muscle aches, feeling anxious, confusion and problems swallowing.
Dr. Rupp says the good news is that treatment has improved over the years. He says now it is a series of four vaccinations given in the shoulder area – much easier than what it used to be. Physicians can also administer human rabies immune globin at the site of the bite area.
Rabies is near 100% fatal so it is important for those who think they have been in contact with a bat or other possible rabid animal to seek treatment.