It doesn’t happen often in the United States, but it happened last week in Massachusetts. From the Associated Press:
BARNSTABLE, Mass. (AP) — A Cape Cod man who contracted rabies from a bat’s bite late last year has died of the illness, the first confirmed case of human rabies in Massachusetts since 1935, according to public records and officials.
The Cape Cod Times reports that Kevin Galvin, 63, president of the Marstons Mills Historical Society and owner of a historic home in the center of that village in Barnstable, died Monday in a Boston hospital of the neurological illness.
The state Department of Public Health cited patient confidentiality laws in declining to confirm Galvin’s identity as the person who had been hospitalized, but the newspaper reports that it obtained his death certificate and it lists rabies encephalitis as the cause of his death.
Rabies is a deadly virus that spreads to humans from the saliva of infected animals. The disease affects the central nervous system and brain.
State officials said in December that a Massachusetts man had been hospitalized as the first confirmed case of human rabies in the state in decades, and Barnstable’s health director later elaborated that the victim was a local man in his 60s.
Tests conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed that the disease was transmitted by a common species of brown bat, although it was unknown exactly when and where Galvin was bitten. Officials have said they believe he was bitten on his own property.
Lee Mannillo of the Cape Cod Rabies Task Force told the Cape Cod Times that Galvin had undergone an innovative treatment called the “Milwaukee protocol.” It treatment involves administering a cocktail of sedatives while allowing the body to produce natural antibodies to fight off the infection.
He died last Monday, and his funeral took place Saturday.
Galvin’s siblings told the Cape Cod Times that they did not want to talk to the media about their brother’s death, and his wife indicated the same through a friend.
Galvin was widely praised by fellow residents who said he was devoted to the Marstons Mills village, where he had lived for 11 years and was active in environmental issues, loved history and enjoyed restoring his 231-year-old home.
To some fellow residents like Al Baker, Galvin was jokingly known as “the mayor of Marstons Mills.”
“I found him to be a very good guy,” said Baker, who said he was shocked by Galvin’s illness and death, finding it “very sad and disheartening.”
Barnstable Health Director Thomas McKean did not return phone calls, and had said earlier in the week that the victim’s family members had requested privacy.
The last confirmed case of human rabies contracted in Massachusetts was in 1935, with the victim believed to have been a teenager from Saugus.
In 1983, a 30-year-old Waltham man died after being exposed to rabies, apparently from a dog bite in Africa. The man developed symptoms, including high temperature, difficulty breathing, sore throat and excessive salivation, about three months after returning to the U.S., and was admitted to Waltham Hospital, according to CDC records. He died a few weeks later.
There have been other instances over the years in which individuals infected elsewhere have received treatment in Massachusetts because of the state’s highly-regarded hospital system.
The CDC said rabies-related human deaths have fallen dramatically in the U.S. from 100 or more annually at the turn of the century to no more than 2 or 3 per year, most but not all involving bats.
The CDC reported two other fatal human rabies cases this year, one in New York and one in New Jersey, with both victims believed to have acquired the disease from dog bites outside the U.S., Haiti in one case and Afghanistan the other.
While U.S. cases are rare, worldwide an estimated 55,000 people die from rabies each year.