Teen Dies of Rabies After Getting Bitten by Vampire Bat in Mexico


But as this vampire bat continues to make headlines, it's important to understand that there are bats already carrying the deadly rabies virus in the United States.

In 2009, U.S. health officials tested 30,000 bats from several dozen different species for rabies. Dr. John Williams of the department of pediatric infectious disease medicine at Vanderbilt said that 6 percent, or about one out of 15 bats, tested positive for rabies.

"A lot of times, people don't even recall being bit by a bat," said Williams. "The bites are small and not particularly painful. But even if someone handles a wild bat, they should receive the prophylactic vaccine because bats shed a lot of the virus through urine and other secretions. They don't even have to bite to infect."

In the report, the CDC concluded that vampire bats may expand and migrate because of climate changes.

Will Vampire Bats Travel North?

"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," the CDC wrote.

But experts said those changes are complex and difficult to predict.

"My concern about invoking climate change as the basis for predicting future increases in human illness is that it's a lot like the medieval clerics' claim that plague would come as a result of human sin: It's apocalyptic, it's irrefutable and it's easily turned into admonitions about individual behavior," said Philip Alcabes, a professor of public health at Hunter College.

"So let me say that expansion of the vampire bats' range might have to do with climate, but if so, it's complex," said Alcabes. "It is not going to depend on whether you recycle newspapers or not."

But he did note that scientists must understand a complex ecosystem when trying to understand an infectious organism.

"What's needed is more environmental monitoring, including information about prevalence of different viruses in various animal species as well as data on land use, weather and so forth," said Alcabes. "This would allow for a richer understanding of how transmission of viruses to humans, as in this unfortunate case, arises from changes in ecosystems."

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