Lake Co. man dies after human case of rabies; first state case in 67 years


SPRINGFIELD (WEEK) — The Illinois Department of Public Health is reporting the first human case of rabies in the state since 1954.

An IDPH release said a resident of Lake County in his 80s awoke to a bat on his neck that was subsequently captured and tested positive for rabies.

The man was advised to start post-exposure rabies treatment but declined. He began experiencing symptoms consistent with rabies a month later — including neck pain, headache, difficulty controlling his arms, finger numbness and difficulty speaking.

The man subsequently died.

An estimated 60,000 Americans receive post-exposure rabies vaccination each year, according to the IDPH. Human cases of rabies are rare, with only 1-3 cases reported each year.

“Rabies has the highest mortality rate of any disease,” said IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike.  “However, there is life-saving treatment for individuals who quickly seek care after being exposed to an animal with rabies.  If you think you may have been exposed to rabies, immediately seek medical attention and follow the recommendations of health care providers and public health officials.”

Bats are the most commonly identified species with rabies in Illinois.  Wildlife experts did find a bat colony in the home of the individual who died. 

People usually know when they have been bitten by a bat, IDPH said. Bats have very small teeth and the bite mark may not be easy to see.  If someone finds themself in close proximity to a bat and are not sure if they were exposed, (e.g., wake up and find a bat in the 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.

If the bat is available for testing and the results are negative, preventive treatment is not needed.  The only way rabies can be confirmed in a bat is through laboratory testing.  You cannot tell just by looking at a bat if it has rabies. 

So far this year, 30 bats have tested positive for rabies in Illinois.  More than 1,000 bats are tested for rabies each year in Illinois due to a possible exposure.  Approximately 3% of tested bats are positive for rabies.

More information about rabies and how to keep bats out of your home can be found on the IDPH website.

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