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Updated: Officials Investigate Rare Human Case of Rabies in Va.

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Rabies (Image courtest YouTube) Rabies (Image courtest YouTube)
Dr. Daniel Sawyer Dr. Daniel Sawyer
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) -

The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) is investigating a rare case of human rabies in central Virginia.

VDH Public Health Veterinarian Julia Murphy says the victim was bitten by a dog in India, but didn't seek any treatment until returning home to the commonwealth in April.

Murphy says the patient did not get a rabies vaccine, and was diagnosed five days ago. Rabies, if left untreated for too long, is most often fatal.

“In this case, this patient's incubation period was roughly six weeks, which is not unusual for rabies in people,” said Murphy.

Dr. Daniel Sawyer, an infectious disease specialist, said during the six week incubation period the patient was most likely not contagious. Sawyer is not involved with treating this patient.

“Coughing is an infrequent way to transmit the disease. So you'd really have to be sick with their bodily fluids - usually saliva - and that sort of thing,” said Sawyer.

VDH is working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as the hospital where the patient is being treated.

The department is assessing every person who might have come into contact with the patient and is working closely with their family. Officials are also evaluating all health providers who are treating the patient for any signs of the virus.

Due to policy, officials cannot confirm where the patient is being treated. However, multiple sources have indicated to NBC29 that the patient is being treated at the University of Virginia Medical Center.

NBC29 asked the UVA Medical Center to confirm this, but it would neither confirm nor deny the information.

Dr. Sawyer says it is uncommon for a person in the U.S. to have rabies: “There's one or two or three cases per year in this country. So it's pretty rare.”

The last known case of human rabies in Virginia was back in 2009. The patient in that case was also bit by a dog in India. He died less than a month later.

NBC29 has not confirmed the condition of the patient at this point, however most people who contract rabies and do not have a vaccine die within a few weeks.

The Virginia Department of Health says the only known human to human transmission cases of rabies have been through organ transplants.

Release from the Virginia Department of Health:

(Richmond, Va.) – The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) is investigating a confirmed case of human rabies. The Virginia resident was bitten by a dog while traveling in India.

While the only documented cases of human-to-human transmission of rabies have been via organ transplantation, acting out of an abundance of caution, VDH is assessing those who had direct contact with this patient to see if there is any concern that they may have been exposed to rabies.

VDH is working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and healthcare centers where the patient sought care, to assess any healthcare worker who potentially may have been exposed to rabies virus due to contact with this patient. VDH is also working to identify any family members and close contacts who may have been exposed to rabies virus due to contact with this patient.

No additional information about the individual will be released to protect their privacy. Our thoughts are with the patient and the patient’s family.

Human rabies cases in the United States are rare, with only 1 to 3 cases reported annually. Twenty-eight cases of human rabies have been diagnosed in the United States since 2006, of which 8 cases were infected outside the United States and its territories. The last time VDH reported a human rabies case was in 2009. This patient had also traveled to India and was bitten by a dog while there.

Those traveling internationally should check with their healthcare providers about vaccinations or other health precautions that are recommended prior to departure. A comprehensive resource for travel health recommendations, for healthcare providers and travelers, is available at: https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/.

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