MILWAUKEE -- A 70-year-old Wisconsin man died after contracting rabies last year, prompting the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to remind doctors not forget about the disease even though it's rare.
According to the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report dated Friday, the man went to an emergency room in December with shoulder pain, tremors, abnormal behavior and difficulty swallowing. He was admitted to the hospital for observation.
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He was treated for alcohol withdrawal symptoms and then with antibiotics for a fever. His symptoms worsened, including acute renal failure. Doctors began to suspect rabies after about a week and confirmed the diagnosis with tests on the 12th day. The man died on the 13th day.
The man did not report being bitten, but his wife told health officials bats were present when they were selling firewood, the report said.
It recommended lab tests be done promptly whenever there are symptoms of rabies and health care officials and others avoid coming in contact with body fluids.
State officials would not say where the man lived or was treated. However, contributors to the report include doctors from Aurora Health Care in Milwaukee and West Allis.
The man's wife and grandchild and five health care workers had to get a series of rabies vaccinations as a precaution. None have had symptoms so far.
The rabies case is the third in Wisconsin since 2000. They all involved known or suspected contact with bats and only one of the three victims, Jeanna Giese, survived.
A bat bit Giese in her church in October 2004. She became the first person to survive rabies without a vaccine after doctors treated her with an experimental cocktail of drugs and medically-induced coma at Children's Hospital and the Medical College of Wisconsin. Giese had to learn to speak, stand and walk again, but this spring she graduated from Lakeland College in Sheboygan.
An 8-year-old California girl who contracted rabies this year, possibly from a feral cat, was saved by the same protocol, said Tom Skinner, a senior public affairs office at the CDC.
Twenty-nine other people who contracted rabies in the United States from 1995 to 2010 died, Skinner said.
According to the CDC website, people tend to die from rabies because they fail to seek medical assistance, usually because they are unaware of their exposure.
Skinner said it's not unusual for people not to recall the exact contact with a bat or realize the contact could put them at risk for an infection. A bat's small teeth could make a bite difficult to find.
When symptoms arise days, weeks or months later it's normally too late for treatment and the infected person usually dies, Skinner said.
The CDC says the rabies virus infects the central nervous system and early symptoms of rabies in people are similar to that of many other illnesses, including fever, headache, and general weakness or discomfort.
As the disease progresses, symptoms may include insomnia, anxiety, confusion, slight or partial paralysis, excitation, hallucinations, agitation, increase in saliva and difficulty swallowing. Death usually occurs within days of symptoms.