ATLANTA (AP) _ Bats _ not dogs _ cause most of the few rabies deaths in the United States, and the species of bats that are usually to blame are rare, federal officials said Friday.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that most of the 35 U.S. rabies deaths since 1990 can be traced to two species: the reclusive silver-haired bat and the eastern pipistrelle bat. Both are found in wooded areas of the Southeast and Northwest.
``Most bats that we live with and are exposed to don't seem to be the ones implicated in rabies deaths,'' said Dr. Charles Rupprecht, chief of the CDC rabies section. ``It really leaves us in the dark.''
Because of vaccinations, rabies in dogs has dropped dramatically in the last century in the United States, but rabid dogs kill as many as 50,000 people around the world each year, the CDC said.
Bat rabies caused three U.S. deaths last year. A 20-year-old in Iowa and a 13-year-old in Tennessee caught rabies from either the silver-haired or eastern pipistrelle bats; the same strain of rabies appears in both. A 28-year-old from California got rabies from a Mexican free-tailed bat.
Barbara French, conservation officer for Bat Conservation International in Austin, Texas, also found the bat-rabies connection surprising.
``These two (species) are not bats that you'd generally find roosting in attics,'' she said. ``It really is just a mystery how people would get rabies from a particular kind of bat they are not likely to see.''