Vampire Bats Possibly Spreading Rabies in Venezuela

Posted on August 10, 2008

CNN reports that 38 Waro Indians in remote villages in Venezuela have died from symptoms similar to rabies. Some of the unusual symptoms include extreme fear of water and progressive paralysis.

Laboratory investigations have yet to confirm the cause, but the symptoms point to rabies, according to two researchers from the University of California at Berkeley and other medical experts.

The two UC Berkeley researchers -- the husband-and-wife team of anthropologist Charles Briggs and public health specialist Dr. Clara Mantini-Briggs -- said the symptoms include fever, body pains, tingling in the feet followed by progressive paralysis, and an extreme fear of water. Victims tend to have convulsions and grow rigid before death.

Dr. Charles Rupprecht, chief of the rabies program at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, agreed with their preliminary diagnosis.

"The history and clinical signs are compatible with rabies," Rupprecht told The Associated Press on Friday. "Prevention is straightforward: Prevent bites and vaccinate those at risk of bites."

It's a pretty horrible problem the villagers are having to deal with. Many of the villagers now have cats in an attempt to keep the vampire bats away from their children. A ProMed email notes that it is unusual that no rabies cases have been reported in other animals - such as horses or cattle - because one would expect the vampire bats to be biting these animals as well. It's possible that it hasn't been mentioned simply because complete information is lacking.

National Geographic has a quick fact page on vampire page here. For Rabies information, check out the CDC's Rabies website.