Most rabies cases in the US come from bats, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned on Wednesday.
Dogs were once the most dangerous carriers of the life-threatening disease.
But times have changed and bats are now responsible for seven out of ten rabies cases.
Although about 5000 rabid animals are reported in the US each year, only one to three cases are reported in humans, an encouraging statistic that the CDC assigns to vaccination against pets.
Watch out for the day bat: Rabbat bats, which can work irregularly and are overly active during the day, are now the main source of the life-threatening infection, warns the CDC
It is rare now, but rabies is a frightening disease.
The powerful virus is almost always deadly to people exposed to it and the disease quickly passes the point of no return.
Rabies is passed through saliva, so people usually get it through animal bites of some form.
The virus attacks the nervous system quickly, causing animals – or humans – to contract and get confused and even & # 39; crazy & # 39; and act capriciously.
A classic image of a rabid animal is of a dog, foaming at the mouth, but not all infected animals.
In fact, bats do not have these obvious physical symptoms.
Instead, the CDC advises people to watch out for bats that do things that bats don't do normally.
Bats, for example, are nocturnal animals, so if you fly around during the day, something is probably done with the animal – and it can just be rabies.
Or, if a bat has a hard time flying and mowing a yard, it's best to avoid it.
Bats have only been the main threat to rabies in relatively recent years.
This is mainly because rabid dogs were a major concern, especially for American children.
But – not unlike the MMR vaccine for people who helped everyone but eliminated measles (until recently) – the development of the pet rabies vaccine has made dogs much safer animals than they ever were.
& # 39; Reducing rabies in dogs is a remarkable achievement of the American public health system, but with this deadly disease still present in thousands of wild animals, it is important that Americans are aware of the risk, & # 39; said CDC director Dr. Robert Redfield.
& # 39; Rabies is almost universally deadly and preventable if people know what to do if they are bitten or scratched. & # 39;
If the rabies vaccine is administered quickly enough as post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP), it is effective to prevent the virus from catching up with the nervous system.
According to the CDC, about a third of all rabid animals reported in the US are bats (white). Other common wild carriers of the disease are skunks (green), raccoons (blue green), foxes (marine) a possible combination of skunk and fox (light blue) and mongoose (light blue)
Each year the CDC estimates that around 55,000 people seek medical help to get rabies PEP.
It is unclear how many of them have actually been exposed to the terrible disease, regardless of whether the combination of the animal vaccine and the PEP for human rabies has made an extremely rare infection.
Nevertheless, the CDC and Animal Control receive reports from around 5000 rabid animals per year and about a third of them are bats.
& # 39; Bats play a crucial role in our ecosystem and it is important for people to know that most bats in the US are not rabid & # 39 ;, said Emily Pieracci, a veterinarian at the CDC and co-author of the new report .
& # 39; The problem comes when people try to treat bats that they think are healthy because you really can't see if an animal has rabies by looking at it.
& # 39; The best advice is to avoid contact with bats and other wildlife in order to protect yourself from rabies. & # 39;
Officials also warned about dogs abroad, the second most common source of rabies in the US, skunks, raccoons, foxes and mongoose.
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