January 30, 2012 / 10:15 PM / 8 years ago

Man dies in first Massachusetts rabies case since 1935

BOSTON (Reuters) - A Massachusetts man has died after being critically ill for about a month with the state’s first reported case of human rabies since 1935.

Kevin Galvin, 63, from Barnstable, who health officials suspected was infected by a bite from a little brown myotis bat, died on January 23 at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, according to an official death certificate Reuters obtained from the Health Department.

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health announced on December 30 that a Cape Cod man in his 60s, whom it never publicly identified, was diagnosed with the rare and potentially fatal disease and hospitalized in critical condition.

The cause of Galvin’s death was rabies encephalitis, and he had been ill for about one month, the document said.

The source of the virus was later confirmed as a type of mouse-eared bat that is one of the most common varieties in North America. Most U.S. cases of human rabies have been linked to exposure to bats.

Galvin was a resident of Marstons Mills, a small village in the city of Barnstable, said neighbor Ed Thew.

“Everybody was kind of shocked,” Thew said. “We’ve all had our run-ins with bats, but I never knew that it was that serious.”

In December, a middle-aged woman in South Carolina died after contracting that state’s first case of human rabies in half a century.

The rabies virus, which is carried in the saliva of infected animals, is generally spread when an animal bites or comes in close contact with a human or another animal.

The virus infects the central nervous system, ultimately causing disease and inflammation in the brain, and death.

Early symptoms of rabies in people are similar to those of many other illnesses, including fever, headache and general weakness or discomfort, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Disease in humans often can be prevented by quickly administering vaccine and antibodies if a person knows he or she has been exposed to rabies, officials say.

One to three human rabies cases are reported in the United States each year, mostly due to exposure to rabid bats. About 55,000 people die of rabies every year in other parts of the world, largely due to exposure to rabid dogs, officials say.

Rabies was first found in bats in Massachusetts in 1961.

Reporting by Zach Howard; Additional Reporting by Lauren Keiper; Editing By Barbara Goldberg and Greg McCune

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