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Mass. Health Officials Confirm Human Rabies Case

This article is more than 7 years old.

Massachusetts public health officials say a Barnstable County man appears to be the first human to contract rabies in the state in 75 years.

The man, believed to be in his 60s, is in critical condition at a hospital. His name and hometown were not released.

The Department of Public Health said Friday that it was not certain how the man was infected, but he may have been bitten by a bat in his home.

Human rabies cases are extremely rare in the U.S., though approximately 55,000 people die of rabies annually in other parts of the world. The disease is almost always fatal if victims do not receive preventative treatment in time.

Officials say there is no indication of increased risk of rabies in bats or any other animal populations in the state.

"There's no reason to believe the risk is any greater now than it has been over the last two decades," Department of Public Health Director John Auerbach said in a press conference Friday. "We carefully monitor the disease in animals and we haven't seen any elevated rabies among the animals we're testing."

Officials are asking residents to be cautious and seal holes in their homes where wild animals may be able to gain access.

The last confirmed case of rabies that was contracted in Massachusetts was in 1935.

In 1983, a Waltham man died at a Massachusetts hospital after being exposed to rabies, apparently from a dog bite while in Africa.

The Department of Public Health suggest these steps to prevent rabies:

  • Keep your chimney capped and repair holes in attics, cellars, and porches to help keep wild animals out of your home.
  • Teach children to never approach animals they don't know.
  • Report any animal that behaves oddly to your local animal control officer.
  • Enjoy wild animals from a distance. Do not keep wild animals as pets.
  • Make sure your pets are vaccinated against rabies.
  • Don't feed food or water to your pets outside. Even empty bowls will attract wild and stray animals.
  • Keep your pets in a fenced yard or on a leash and do not let them roam freely.
  • Keep your garbage securely covered.

With reporting by The Associated Press and the WBUR Newsroom

This program aired on December 30, 2011. The audio for this program is not available.

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