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June 18, 2019

Bats responsible for more human rabies deaths than dogs in the U.S.

June 13, 2019
Bats account for 70% of all rabies cases in the U.S. (Rudmer Zwerver/Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Looks like Michael Scott’s rabies concerns on “The Office” weren’t unfounded after all.

Bats cause around 70% of human rabies infections in America, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention said in a new report released on Wednesday.

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Between 1960 and 2018, 89 U.S. citizens got rabies. 62 of the cases were attributed to bats.

Dog bites during international travel accounted for 36 cases of rabies that resulted in American deaths during that same time period. Rabies is a much larger problem internationally, with approximately 59,000 deaths each year worldwide.

The CDC found that over the past 80 years, canine rabies vaccination has caused a tenfold decrease in human rabies cases.

Since 2003, the U.S. public health system has only had two human deaths and one rabid dog importation per year. Meanwhile, there have been around 175 “mass bat exposure events,” which is when 10 or more people are exposed to a potentially rabid bat, per year.

Emily Pieracci, a veterinary epidemiologist at the CDC in Atlanta told ScienceNews that people typically think of rabid animals as being aggressive and actively trying to attack people, but she said infected animals can also be timid and still bite.

“You can’t tell whether an animal has rabies just by looking at it,” Pieracci said. “A normal, healthy bat will not allow you to touch it.”

The Department of Agriculture has rabies management programs aimed towards raccoon, fox and coyote populations, but “bat vaccination is not yet logistically feasible.” That’s part of the reason why they are the leading cause of human rabies deaths in the U.S.

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