Vampire bat rabies death prompts warning from health officials

The vampire bat
Pascual Soriano
Pascual Soriano

(CBS) Federal health officials are urging doctors to consider rabies in patients with severe headache, confused thinking, or other symptoms of the brain inflammation encephalitis. The caution comes after the 2010 death of a migrant worker in Louisiana was attributed to the bite of a rabid vampire bat.

It was the first death from a vampire bite ever recorded in the U.S.

The unidentified 19-year-old died on August 21, 2010, about three weeks after seeking medical attention about fatigue, shoulder pain, and numbness in his left hand. When public health authorities interviewed the man's mother, she said he had been bitten by a vampire bat on the heel of his left foot in Michocan, Mexico on July 15, 10 days before leaving for the U.S. He hadn't sought medical attention for the bite, his mother said.

Although bats are found only in Latin America, changes in climate may be expanding the bats' range, the CDC says. If the bats show up in the U.S., that "likely would lead to increased bat exposures to both humans and animals," the CDC said in a written statement.

The rabies virus can be transmitted by other species of bats that are found in the U.S. In addition, rabies can be transmitted by dogs, raccoons, foxes, and skunks. Anyone bitten by an animal should call 911 or go to the emergency room.

Rabies can be prevented by a vaccine if it's given promptly. About 40,000 Americans a year have to get the two-week series of four shots (five if you have immune problems) after being bitten, the Associated Press reported.

The CDC has more on rabies.