The US is seeing an 'unprecedented' increase in cases of rabies as officials across the country report a spike in cases of the fatal disease.
In Rhode Island, around 200 people have now received a rabies post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) vaccine after possibly coming into contact with the disease during the 'unprecedented bat season' in the state.
The increase in cases has health officials stressing how serious the risk posed by rabies is and how important it is for people to take precautions to prevent exposure.
Rabies kills 100 percent of the time in humans if treatment is not started before symptoms first start showing. Symptoms can begin to show up in humans one to three months after exposure and include hallucinations, delirium and hydrophobia, or fear of water. Death follows soon after.
Fortunately, if a person has been exposed to the rabies virus, then they may be given the PEP vaccine. This consists of one dose of man-made antibodies to fight infection on the day of exposure, and four doses of rabies vaccine given over the course of two weeks.
Bat season typically lasts for a few weeks in Rhode Island in August, but this year the season has lasted longer as temperatures have remained higher for longer, prompting bats to find cooler places in houses, and people to be exposed to the animals.
And with baby bats recently having 'fledged', or taken to the skies for the first time, they are more likely to come into contact with people as they learn to forage.
Health officials within the state say that people who see a bat should try to safely capture it and get it tested for rabies. Rhode Island Department of Public Health said that if it is not possible to capture the bat, people should still contact the department.
'If someone reports a bat in their house and they do not have the bat, we have to assume that the bat was rabid,' the department said.
Most bats are healthy and generally don't pose a threat to humans, but a bite from an infected bat can transmit the rabies virus. A bat bite is often so small that there is no visible wound but, even without a bite mark, a bite from a rabies-infected bat can still lead to infection.
At least five other states - Utah, Colorado, Florida, Ohio, and South Carolina - have reported cases of rabies in bats over the last month. In Florida, a county of nearly half-a-million people was placed under a two-month alert for the disease.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that there are one to two cases of rabies in humans each year in the US.
Health officials urge people to be mindful of the danger posed by rabies, warning them to be vigilant about what animals they come into contact with. People should also keep their pets current on their vaccinations as it can help protect them from the effects of the disease.