Vampire Bat Causes First Bat-Rabies Fatality in U.S.

The vampire bat caused its first U.S. fatality, health authorities said Thursday.

A 19-year-old migrant farm worker who had been bitten while in his native Michoacan on July 15, 2011, 10 days before he left for the U.S. to pick sugar cane at a plantation in Louisiana.

"This case represents the first reported human death from a vampire bat rabies virus variant in the United States," the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in its weekly Morbidity and Mortality weekly report.

This variant of the rabies virus was unusually aggressive -- its incubation period was just 15 days, versus the median 85 days seen in other cases of human rabies in the U.S., the CDC said.

The CDC warned that though vampire bat populations are currently confined to Latin America, climate change could result in a northward migration of their population, possibly leading to more cases of human infection in the southern United States.

"Research suggests that the range of these bats might be expanding as a result of changes in climate. 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."

This case "highlights the growing importance of bats in public health," the CDC noted.

Vampire bats are bloodsucking nocturnal mammals typically found in Mexico, Brazil, Chile and Argentina. They usually feed on wild animals but have been known to attack people as well.

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