Vampire bats are the leading cause of rabies in Latin America.
Now, for the first time, health authorities have confirmed that someone in the United States died from rabies transmitted by a vampire bat.
A 19-year-old migrant farm worker from Mexico died in August 2010 in New Orleans, according to a report last week in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly, which is published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
He was bitten on the heel by a vampire bat while in the Mexican state of Michoacan, and arrived in the U.S. about two weeks later to work on a sugarcane plantation in Louisiana.
Although the bats are currently only found in Latin America, their range might be expanding into the United States as a result of climate change, the report said.
Rabies outbreaks have been occurring along the edges of the Amazon in Peru, Brazil, Venezuela and Colombia, GlobalPost reported in December. Rabies is endemic to the Amazon, but last year's outbreak was particularly deadly.
At night, vampire bats feed on the blood of sleeping mammals, including people. They need a blood meal every day or two, and they can detect infrared radiation with their noses, allowing them to locate areas where blood flows close to the surface in their prey, reports the New York Times.
The rabies virus attacks the brain and central nervous system. Symptoms include muscle weakness, fever, hallucinations, sensitivity to light and fear of water. If not treated in time, it can lead to paralysis and death.
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