SPRINGFIELD (WEHT) – The Illinois Department of Public Health reported the first human case of rabies in Illinois since 1954. The CDC confirmed the diagnosis on Tuesday after testing at its lab.

A Lake County resident in his 80s awoke to a bat on his neck last month. The bat was captured and tested positive for rabies. The individual was advised he needed to start post-exposure rabies treatment but declined. One month later, the individual began experiencing symptoms consistent with rabies, including neck pain, headache, difficulty controlling his arms, finger numbness and difficulty speaking. The individual subsequently died.

People who had contact with secretions from the individual were assessed and given rabies preventative treatment as needed.

“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.”

While cases of human rabies in the United States are rare with only one to three cases reported each year, rabies exposures are still common with an estimated 60,000 Americans receiving the post-exposure vaccination series each year.  The rabies virus infects the central nervous system, ultimately causing disease in the brain and death.  Without preventive treatment, rabies is typically fatal. 

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.