Mike Reed

A Houston man’s death recently from the rabies virus underscores the need to obtain medical help when bitten by animals, health officials and the victim’s family said.

Mike Reed, 55, died after treatment in a Columbia hospital after a diagnosis from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

It’s the first case since 1959 reported in Missouri. Only one to three cases are reported annually in the United States.

Carolyn Bell R.N., Texas County Health Department’s communicable disease coordinator, said the preliminary clinical diagnosis of rabies for the resident was confirmed last week Wednesday by microscopic examination of samples submitted to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

Reed was hospitalized earlier in the week when symptoms became severe. It appears he contracted the disease after receiving a bat bite in early to mid- October. He did not seek medical care until symptoms began in late November. The incubation period for rabies is variable, but can take from two weeks to several months. Health officials stress that there is no risk to anyone who may have had casual contact with the patient. Rabies is primarily transmitted through bites, and only rarely through broken skin or mucous membrane exposure to infected saliva or spinal fluid.

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services is working closely with the local public health officials in the disease investigation. Close contacts will be evaluated to determine if they need rabies post-exposure treatment.

“According to CDC reports, direct human-to-human transmission has not been documented in the United States with the exception of one case related to cornea transplant,” Bell said. “However, post-exposure treatment may be considered for those who had close, personal contact with the patient, such as care-givers. State and local health department staff will help to assess which individuals, if any, may be at risk and should be vaccinated.”

This case underscores the importance of seeking prompt medical attention if you are bitten by or may have been exposed to an animal that could be infected with rabies, Bell said.

The vaccine, which stimulates antibodies to the virus, eliminates the chance of getting the disease if it is administered within days of initial exposure.

In 2004, a Wisconsin teenager was the first human ever to survive rabies without vaccination, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. The girl, 15, was placed into a drug-induced coma and doctors gave her antiviral drugs following a bat bite.

Texas County residents with concerns or specific questions about rabies may contact area physicians, veterinarians or the Texas County Health Department at 417-967-4131.

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