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Rabid vampire bats are coming north. The first case report of death in the United States from rabies caused by a vampire bat bite was issued by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) on Friday.

Deforestation, climate change and the expansion of cattle ranches into the Amazon jungle created ideal conditions for growth and northward expansion of vampire bat populations from the Amazon jungle of Peru to central America and Mexico. The CDC warns that vampire bats may reach the United States as the climate warms bringing rabies and a host of diseases with them.

Although vampire bats currently are found only in Latin America, research suggests that the range of these bats might be expanding as a result of changes in climate (6). Expansion of vampire bats into the United States likely would lead to increased bat exposures to both humans and animals (including domestic livestock and wildlife species) and substantially alter rabies virus dynamics and ecology in the southern United States. In addition to rabies and other lyssaviruses, accumulating evidence implicates bats as reservoirs and potential vectors of a number of emerging infectious diseases (7). These discoveries raise further questions about the health risks to human populations with direct or indirect contact with bats, particularly given the high disease severity and fatality rates associated with these zoonoses. Further research should be directed toward better defining the nature and magnitude of the risks to human health posed by bats.

A 19 year old Mexican man ignored a bite he he got on the heel while sleeping at home in Michoacan before coming to Louisiana to work in the sugar fields at the end of July last year. He sought medical care for muscle weakness, fatigue, a drooping eye and shoulder pain after 1 day of work.  Despite intensive medical care, his paralysis and neurological symptoms worsened progressively and he was taken off life support on August 21.

August 12, 2011 / 60(31);1050-1052

In August 2010, CDC confirmed a case of rabies in a migrant farm worker, aged 19 years, hospitalized in Louisiana with encephalitis. The man developed acute neurologic symptoms at the end of July, shortly after arriving in the United States from Michoacán, Mexico. Despite supportive care, his condition deteriorated, and he died on August 21. Antemortem diagnostic testing confirmed the diagnosis of rabies, and samples collected at autopsy were positive for a vampire bat rabies virus variant. The patient's mother reported that he had been bitten by a bat in July in Mexico but had not sought medical care. Postexposure prophylaxis (PEP) was offered to 27 of the patient's contacts in Louisiana and to 68 health-care workers involved in his care. Although bats have become the primary source of human rabies in the United States, this is the first reported death from a vampire bat rabies virus variant in the United States. Clinicians caring for patients with acute progressive encephalitis should consider rabies in the differential diagnosis and implement early infection control measures.

Vampire bats are the only mammals that only eat blood. A vampire bat can eat half of its body weight in blood in one feeding. The bite victim often doesn't notice the bite until later. Docile domestic cattle herds which don't defend themselves against being bitten make the perfect host population for the rapid expansion of vampire bat populations.

This National Geographic video explains how environmental disruption of the Amazon jungle in Peru has created the conditions for vampire bats to proliferate and become a major vector for rabies and other diseases in humans and cattle.

Originally posted to Climate Hawks on Sat Aug 13, 2011 at 06:20 PM PDT.

Also republished by DK GreenRoots.

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