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Friday, November 04, 2005 

Late for the Halloween party

I saw this reported about a week ago via ProMed, but hadn't seen any of the "real" news outlets covering it yet. Now the BBC has an article about Vampire bats going attacking humans in Brazil:

Health authorities in northern Brazil are trying to cope with a wave of attacks on humans by vampire bats infected with the deadly rabies virus.

Rabies caused by bat bites has killed 23 people in the last two months.

There was a similar phenomenon last year in Brazil, with at least 22 dead from rabies due to vampire bat attacks. At least 23 are dead from this round.

Health authorities say they have treated more than 1,300 people for rabies after being attacked by vampire bats, almost always at night in their houses.

In the affected areas, people have been trying to fill gaps in the walls of their huts with banana leaves to stop the bats getting in.

Some experts have blamed the attacks on destruction of the rainforest, denying the bats of their natural habitat.

But others have suggested the vampire bat population may have grown rapidly, with the spread of cattle farming in the region providing an ample food supply.

Mass attacks on humans have occurred in other cattle regions in Latin America when the cattle are suddenly removed.

The bats drink the blood of other mammals while they are asleep. They are the main carriers of rabies in Brazil.

I don't know enough about vampire bats to even begin to speculate on the cause of the attacks, and whether deforestation or increased cattle populations is a greater cause of the human attacks. But jus
t to stop any myths in their tracks: 1) vampire bats do not "suck" blood, Dracula-style; they make little cuts in the flesh with their teeth, and lap up the blood. 2) The vampire bats responsible for this outbreak are not large, nor are they aggressive. They attack when their "victim" is sleeping, and will fly off if frightened. Their biggest threat isn't from "draining blood," but from inoculating the victim with the rabies virus.

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About me

  • I'm Tara C. Smith
  • From Iowa, United States
  • I'm a mom and a scientist, your basic stressed-out, wanna-have-it-all-and-do-it-all Gen Xer. Recently transplanted from Ohio to Iowa, I've spent most of my life in the midwest (with 4 years of college spent out east in "soda" territory). My main interest, and the subject of my research, is infectious disease: how does the microbe cause illness? What makes one strain nasty, and another "avirulent?" Are the latter really not causing any disease, or could some of those be possible for the development of chronic disease years down the road? Additionally, I've spent a lot of time discussing the value of teaching evolution, and educating others about "intelligent design" and other forms of creationism. My interest in history of science and medicine is also useful as a way to tie all of the above interests together. [Disclaimer: the views here are solely my own, and do not represent my employer, my spouse, that guy who's always sitting by the fountain when I come into work, or anyone else with whom I may be remotely affiliated.]
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