Which U.S. Animals Have Rabies as Child Becomes First Texas Case Since 2009

Texas health officials have reported the first human case of rabies in the state since 2009.

A child from Medina County has contracted rabies after being bitten by a bat, the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) announced on Friday.

The child has been receiving medical care at a Texas hospital, and anybody who may have been exposed to the virus by either the child or the bat has been contacted by public health officials for assessment and post-exposure vaccination.

Rabies is a serious viral disease that affects the central nervous system and causes inflammation of the brain, which can be fatal.

All mammals, and only mammals, are susceptible to rabies.

Human cases in the U.S. are most commonly caused by bats, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which says that bats are responsible for 70 percent of human deaths from rabies in the U.S.

Wild raccoons, skunks and foxes are also common carriers of the infection.

The Texas DSHS says that foxes "can be 20 times as serious a distributing agent" as skunks, since they tend to move faster and travel farther.

Livestock, such as cows and horses, and domestic pets, like cats and dogs, which haven't received a rabies vaccination or are not up to date on their vaccinations can also contract rabies from exposure to infected wild animals.

According to the Texas DSHS, most cases in the state occur in the spring, likely because the mating season for wild animals creates more opportunities for the disease to spread from creature to creature.

The best-known way for rabies to spread is via a bite from an infected animal.

However, the infection can also be transmitted by saliva entering the body via a scratch or other such break in the skin, as well as through the eyes, nose or mouth.

"Once someone becomes sick with rabies, it is almost always fatal. However, the illness is preventable if rabies vaccine and immune globulin are administered before symptoms start," the Texas DSHS says.

Health officials also recommend that any bite wounds or scratches inflicted by an animal are washed immediately with soap and water.

The last human case of rabies to be recorded in Texas concerned a 17-year-old girl, who sought medical help after experiencing a severe frontal headache, neck pain, dizziness, light sensitivity, vomiting and a prickling sensation in her face and arms.

She was diagnosed with rabies after recalling that she had come into contact with bats in a Texas cave two months before falling ill, although she hadn't been aware of being bitten or scratched.

Though she required multiple further hospital visits, she recovered without requiring intensive care.

"Rabies is preventable if rabies immune globulin and vaccine are administered soon after an exposure; however, this case also suggests the rare possibility that abortive rabies can occur in humans and might go unrecognized," researchers wrote in a report for the CDC.

A bat with its mouth open
70 percent of human deaths from rabies in the U.S. were caused by bats, according to the CDC. jack looney/iStock