Mon, Apr

Rabies Kills Five Humans in U.S. in 2021, Rabid Bats in LA County at Record Level


ANIMAL WATCH - The CDC (Centers for Disease Control) reported last week that five people died in the U.S. from rabies during 2021, which is the highest number since 2007, and follows a two-year lull—2019 and 2020—in which no human rabies deaths occurred in this country. 

Whether you are the victim of a stray dog bite, a feral cat or kitten scratch, if you “rescue” or otherwise touch a fallen bat in your yard or house, or have physical contact with wildlife, you could be exposed to rabies—a fatal disease that travels through the nervous system and attacks the brain, unless treated preemptively. 

Rabies is a viral disease, typically transmitted through animals, that is preventable with vaccination. However, once symptoms of the disease begin to appear—including fever, pain, confusion, aggression, and paralysis—rabies is usually 100 percent fatal. (See on CDC site: Español (Spanish) 

Signs and symptoms of rabies in humans?  

Within weeks or even months after a bite, rabies can cause general weakness or discomfort, fever, or headache. As the disease progresses, the person may experience delirium, abnormal behavior, hallucinations, hydrophobia (fear of water/inability to swallow) and insomnia. 

Death can occur within weeks after symptoms begin. But it can be prevented through a series of shots given within two weeks of exposure. 

On January 7, the CDC (Center for Disease Control) reported, U.S. Records 5 Rabies Deaths in 2021, Highest Number in a Decade

Five Americans died of rabies last year—the largest number in a decade—and some did not even realize they were infected or they refused the post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) shots which could have saved their lives. Death could have been prevented.”

In three cases-all stemming from contact with bats--the victims “either trivialized the exposure (to bats) or they didn’t recognize the severity of rabies,” the report states. 

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is raising awareness of the risks of rabies from bats in the U.S. after three people, including one 7-year-old child, died from rabies over a five-week period between September 28, and November 3, 2021—one each in Idaho, Illinois, and Texas—were confirmed to have rabies after direct contact with bats in or around their homes. 

Two of the bat-associated cases were considered avoidable exposures:. One was attributed to a bat roost in the patient’s home, the other to the patient picking up the bat with bare hands. Two patients released the bat, rather than capturing it for testing.

None of the three individuals received post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP), shots that can prevent rabies from developing if received before symptoms start. 

An 80-year-old man in Illinois refused to take shots based on “a long-standing fear of vaccines.” And a Texas boy, 7, did not get shots because of a belief it was not necessary because there was no apparent puncture from a bat bite nor a scratch which had broken the skin. 

One of the deaths was an adult male in Boise, Idaho, and was the first rabies death in that state since 1978, according to The Hill. 

In late August 2021, he reportedly found a bat on his property but didn’t believe it had bitten or scratched him. In October he became ill and was hospitalized, where he eventually died. Tests performed confirmed that he had contracted rabies, the report states. 

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare and Central District Health announced in a media release after confirmation by the CDC,“This tragic case highlights how important it is that Idahoans are aware of the risk of rabies exposure. Although deaths are rare, it is critical that people exposed to a bat receive appropriate treatment to prevent the onset of rabies as soon as possible.” 

Two other deaths occurred earlier in 2021, CDC officials stated. One was a Minnesota man bitten by a bat. He did get the shots, but “an undiagnosed immune system problem hampered their effectiveness,” CDC officials said. The other victim was bitten by a rabid dog while traveling in the Philippines and died in New York after returning to the U.S. 


If you’ve been in contact with any wildlife or unfamiliar animals, particularly if you’ve been bitten or scratched, you should talk with a healthcare or public health professional promptly to determine your risk for rabies or other illnesses. The CDC emphasizes that decisions should not be delayed. While it is not an emergency, it is urgent. 

Wash any wounds immediately with soap and water (whether a bite or attack on a human or pet), because many types of bats have very small teeth which may leave marks that disappear quickly. If you are unsure, seek medical advice to be safe. 

The CDC recommends, “See your doctor for attention for any trauma due to an animal attack before considering the need for rabies vaccination”.  


Symptoms of rabies in dogs include:

If you suspect a dog has been exposed to rabies, take him/her to an emergency vet immediately. Dogs that have been vaccinated against rabies can be revaccinated as a preventive measure.

Physical signs of rabies in dogs to watch for include fever, difficulty swallowing, excessive drooling, staggering, seizures, and even paralysis

As the virus progresses, dogs may act as though they are overstimulated--meaning lights, movement, and sound may appear to have a negative effect.

(Source:  Rabies in Dogs - Pet WebMD)

Symptoms of rabies in cats include:

Changes in behavior. Cats who are usually calm may become excitable or agitated. ...

Aggression. Cats can become excitable, aggressive, and vicious towards humans or other animals.

Drooling. Rabies can affect muscles in a cat's mouth so they can't swallow. ...

Loss of muscle control. 

(Source:  Rabies in Cats - Pet WebMD) 

The CDC is urging people to take the following measures to prevent or lessen the risk of infection with rabies:

Avoid direct contact with bats.

If you do come into contact with a bat OR if someone possibly had contact with a bat, do the following:

Call your state or local health department or animal control to help trap the bat for testing or safely trap the bat yourself. Testing a bat to determine if it is rabid can help to determine whether you need PEP. 

Contact your doctor or a local public health official to assess whether PEP is needed.

These steps are important even if contact with a bat takes place through clothing and bite or scratch marks are not visible. Sometimes it is not clear whether someone may have had contact with a bat, such as when a bat is found in a room with someone who is sleeping or where a child has been left unattended.  

For the history of rabies, see Bat Rabies in the United States and Canada from 1950 through 2007: Human Cases With and Without Bat Contact 


“On Friday, May 21, Michigan state officials announced that a dog tested positive for rabies,” reported MLive. 

“A 6-month-old dog in Detroit recently tested positive for the disease, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services…The dog had never been vaccinated against rabies.” 

“Before this instance, the last dog in the state to have tested positive for rabies was in Oakland County in 2011,” the report continued. 

“While any mammal can be infected with rabies, in Michigan it is typically carried by skunks or bats,” the report states. However, in this instance, “The rabid dog’s family reported it recently had a nighttime altercation with another animal in their yard.” 

State law requires dogs and ferrets to be vaccinated against rabies by a licensed veterinarian. It is also important to make sure cats, even those kept strictly indoors, be vaccinated against rabies, the report emphasizes. 


The Los Angeles County Health Department Rabies Map, which indicates it was updated on December 7, 2021, reminds us that rabid bats are found every year in the County, but states

However, in 2020, fifty-one rabid bats were found in Los Angeles County (view map here.) 

So far in 2021, 68 rabid bats have been found in Los Angeles County.  52 were found outside of houses, 1 was found at a condominium, 3 were found on neighborhood sidewalks, 5 were found outside of businesses, 4 were found inside of houses, and 3 were found inside of businesses.  

This is the highest recorded number of rabid bats found in LA County since testing of bats for rabies began in 1961 


Castaic.  February.  Bat found dead in the front yard of a house. 

Canyon Country (Santa Clarita).  April.  Bat found alive outside on the wall of a house.

Van Nuys.  April.  Bat found alive on the ground outside of a business.

Woodland Hills.  May.  A live bat flew inside a house.

Atwater Village (Los Angeles 90039).  May.  Bat found alive on the ground outside of a home. 

Canyon Country (Santa Clarita).  May.  Bat found on the ground outside of a house.

Tarzana.  July.  Bat found alive clinging to playground equipment in the backyard of a home. 

Arcadia.  July.  Bat found alive just outside of the front entrance door to a business. 

Claremont.  July.  Bat found alive clinging to a garden hose in the backyard of a house.

Glendale.  July.  Bat found alive in the common area courtyard of a condominium.

Chatsworth.  September.  Bat found outdoors and caught by a cat.  


L.A.  Animal Services Encouraging NOT Bringing Stray Animal To Shelters

Here’s what the City of Los Angeles advises if you find a lost/stray animal:


If you have found a lost cat or dog in the City of Los Angeles, help get that pet home by posting a photo and description of the found or lost animal on LA City Lost and Found PetsNextdoor.comPawboost.com, or Shadowapp.com as well as put up flyers in the neighborhood to improve the chances of reuniting the pet with their families.  According to an ASPCA survey, about half of missing dogs and a third of missing cats were found by searching their local neighborhoods. 

It then concedes for you to bring the dog in after you fill out an application and make a future appointment

 Is this acceptable for a tax-funded department considering the scenarios just discussed are more likely when the city’s Los Angeles Animal Services enforcement has been reduced, including spay/neuter efforts to lessen the chance unaltered dogs will be roaming neighborhoods, and licensing of dogs to insure current rabies vaccinations.

Is the LAAS suggestion that you turn the dog or cat loose where you found it safe for the animal and humans?

And, is it safe to bring a stray animal into your home—with other pets and children--without the Los Angeles Animal Services Department determining that it has an up-to-date rabies vaccination?


(Phyllis M. Daugherty is a contributor to CityWatch and a former Los Angeles City employee.)