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Delaware woman dies of rabies in the state’s first fatal case since 1941

Health officials announced this week a woman in Delaware has died from rabies, the first such death in the state in nearly 80 years.

The Delaware Division of Public Health (DPH) said the woman likely became infected sometime before the first week of July.

She was first admitted to a Delaware hospital in July before her condition quickly deteriorated and she was transferred to a Pennsylvania hospital. 

The woman, who died last week, lived in Kent County in a rural area west of Felton, but her name and age were not revealed due to confidentiality reasons.

Test results did not confirm the presence of rabies until recently, and health officials have been unable to determine how the woman contracted the deadly virus. 

The Delaware Division of Public Health said the woman lived in Kent County in a rural area west of Felton and likely became infected sometime before the first week of July

Rabies is a deadly virus that attacks the central nervous system and the brain.

It is spread to people via the saliva of infected animals, usually from a bite, but the saliva can also enter through a cut or break in the skin.

In the US, the most common animals that transmit rabies are bats, coyotes, foxes, raccoons and skunks, according to the Mayo Clinic. 

Signs and symptoms include fever, headache, vomiting, excessive salivation, difficulty swallowing, confusions and hallucinations.

However, the virus can lay dormant in your body between one and three months in what is known as the ‘incubation period’.

When a person begins showing symptoms, the disease has usually progressed to a point where it is fatal.

If you believe you’ve been bitten by a rabid animal, you should wash your wound with soap and water and immediately seek medical attention.

The Mayo Clinic says that depending on several factors there are two shots that can be given.

The first is the rabies immune globulin shot to prevent the virus from infecting you, which should be administered near the bite site as soon as possible after the bite.

The second option is a series of vaccines which helps your body identify and fight rabies. There are four injections that are administered in the arm over 14 days.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there have only been 23 cases reported of rabies in the US from 2008 to 2017, with eight of those being contracted outside the US and its territories. 

There are typically one to three cases reported every year, the agency says/ 

Rabies is the deadliest disease and is almost 100 percent fatal if left untreated.  

‘Our hearts go out to this woman’s family during this very difficult time,’ DPH Director Dr Karyl Rattay said.

‘Because rabies is a fatal disease once symptoms develop, we urge all Delawareans to ensure they are taking steps to avoid exposure. This is a largely preventable disease.’ 

Dr Rattay told the Delaware News Journal that this is the second person who has died of the disease since the state started keeping records in 1913.

According to the News Journal archives, four-year-old Edward Louis Clark, of Newport Pike, was bitten by a stray dog while he was playing outside of his home in 1941 and died nine weeks later. 

Although rabies cases are rare, the death of a six-year-old Florida boy this January – after a rabid bat scratched him – has renewed interest in testing animals.

DPH said it has performed rabies tests on 83 animals since January, with nine confirmed to be rabid.

These animals included three foxes, three raccoons, one cat, one dog and one horse.

Officials also said that human-to-human transmission has not been reported other than through organ transplantation, state officials said.

Health and agriculture officials are urging residents to get their pets vaccinated and to be on the watch for any rabid animals.

Resides who believe they have come in contact with an animal that might have rabies are asked to call the Department of Agriculture at 302-698-4630 or 



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