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Press Release

Health officials caution residents not to handle wild animals after Contra Costa man dies from rabies

Friday, October 5, 2012

Public Health officials are urging people to avoid handling wildlife after a 34-year-old Contra Costa County man died from rabies abroad after having contact with a bat locally. This is the county's first death from rabies in nearly 20 years.

The man became ill after leaving the United States to return to work overseas and died in a hospital in Switzerland on July 31. Tests later confirmed the cause of death to be rabies. After the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was notified of the man's death in late August, an international investigation including local, state and federal health officials was launched to determine how he might have been exposed to the disease and if anyone else was at risk. Health officials concluded the victim had likely been infected in late March when he touched a bat in the southern part of Contra Costa County, said Erika Jenssen, Contra Costa Public Health's Communicable Disease Program Chief.

"Tragically, this man died from rabies," Jenssen said. "To be safe, people should not handle wildlife, especially bats. It's critical that people who have been bitten by bats or wild animals seek medical attention immediately."

This case underscores the importance of raising public awareness about the risk of rabies exposure in the United States. Though rabies infections in people are rare in the U.S., once symptoms begin, rabies is almost always fatal, making it crucial that an exposed person receive vaccine (given in the arm) and human rabies immunoglobulin to prevent the onset of rabies as soon as possible. Most human rabies infections in the U.S. are attributed to rabid bat exposure. In Contra Costa, three bats have tested positive for rabies this year. In California last year, 211 of the 223 animals that tested positive for rabies were bats, said Curtis Fritz, State Public Health Veterinarian with the California Department of Public Health who oversees the statewide rabies prevention and control program.

"The vast majority of bats pose no risk of rabies. However, a bat that behaves unusually, such as lying on the ground or being active during the daytime, is of greater concern and people should not attempt to handle it but should contact their local animal control agency," Fritz said.

While human-to-human transmission of rabies is extremely rare, health officials provided precautionary treatments to several friends and family members, medical providers and others who had contact with the Contra Costa man while he was possibly infectious. The man's identity isn't being released because of health privacy rules. The symptoms of rabies in people can include anxiety, confusion, fever, headache and loss of feeling or muscle function.

Dogs and Cats can be infected by wildlife as well, and it is important for pet owners to protect their animals by making sure their pets are up to date on their rabies vaccinations. Rabid animals exhibit symptoms such as abnormal behavior, aggressiveness and excessive salivation. The last time a human died from rabies in Contra Costa was in 1993. In that case, a man was bitten by a rabid puppy in Mexico and later traveled to the Bay Area where he became sick and died.

For more information about rabies, visit and the CDC's October 5 edition of CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report is online:

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