Student Assistance to the Kentucky Department for Public Health for Potential Exposure of Campers to Bat Rabies

Human rabies cases in the United States are rare, with only 1 to 3 cases reported to the CDC annually. Because of vigorous domestic animal control and vaccination programs, human exposure to the rabies virus is most likely to occur through contact with wild animals. Bats are the most frequently reported rabid wildlife species in the US (30.9 percent of all animal cases during 2015).

Over a three-week period in June of 2017, 87 children who stayed at a camp in southeastern Kentucky potentially came in contact with bats while sleeping in cabins. Bats were seen primarily during the night in the cabins by the campers. Some of the children reported waking to a bat flying by their face while others swatted and possibly hit bats. Most concerning was that some of the children may have been asleep while the bats were in the cabins and unaware of level of contact.  Bats are known to carry rabies and although most bats are healthy and part of the environmental life cycle, some cases of human rabies have occurred without clear knowledge that the person had direct contact with the bat.

The Kentucky Department for Public Health (DPH ), initiated  its Incident Action Plan to address this concern under the leadership of State Public Health Veterinarian Dr. Kelly Giesbrecht.  Because the children were from all across Kentucky, numerous county health departments were involved in this public health response. The purpose of the response was to contact the family of every child who was known to have stayed in one of the cabins and assess their level of bat-contact and potential rabies exposure risk. Families were then referred to medical professionals for guidance on proper procedures for rabies post-exposure prevention (RPEP) measures, including a 4-dose vaccination series and a shot of rabies immune globulin, which prevents rabies virus from progressing in the body.