In the first case of its kind in the United States, a man in Louisiana died last year from a vampire bat bite, which gave him a fatal case of rabies. A new report, published this month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, explains how it happened. But what has some scientists concerned is that vampire bat bites — and the spread of rabies — could become more common in the near future. Here's what you should know:
How did this case occur?
Doctors weren't sure at first what was wrong with the man, an otherwise healthy 19-year-old migrant farm worker on a Louisiana sugarcane plantation. After tests at a New Orleans hospital, doctors diagnosed him with rabies, but by that time it was too late to save him (rabies is usually fatal if not treated before symptoms develop). An autopsy revealed the rabies came from a vampire bat. These bats live in Latin America, not the U.S., but officials learned the man had been bitten in his hometown in Mexico, 10 days before arriving in Louisiana.
How common are deadly bites like these?
This was the first human death from a vampire bat bite ever recorded in the U.S. Rabies cases in general are rare in this country, and eight of the 32 human rabies cases reported here since 2000 came from exposures abroad, says the International Business Times. Most of the rabies cases occurring in the United States and Latin America are caused by bats, not dogs. And American health officials are worried that bat bites — particularly vampire bat bites — could become more frequent in the future.
Why would rabies cases like this happen more often?
Climate change. Vampire bats are native to South and Central America, but as the planet continues to warm, the climate in the southern United States becomes more like that in the bats' homeland, so we may see more vampire bats in areas that were once too cold for them. And it's not just rabies, either: A number of tropical diseases, from malaria to dengue fever, could become more common in the United States as the climate warms.