An unusual pest is causing chaos among the residents of a northeastern Brazilian city: vampire bats.
Over the past three months, vampire bats have bitten over 40 residents and even killed one man around the city of Salvador in Bahia, the local health authority (SESAB) and public news agency Agencia Brasil reports.
The victims were mainly elderly people and children who were bitten in the middle of the night on the extremities of their body, such as their feet, hands, and head. The man who died was bitten by a vampire bat in the municipality of Paramirim, southwest of Bahia, and only sought care 21 days after he was bitten. He eventually died of rabies.
The rabies virus is the main fear of these bat attacks. Within a week or so, the virus will infect the brain and nerves, and the disease is virtually always fatal once symptoms appear. The infected person will then show a severe flu-like fever, paranoia, confusion, hallucinations, and a fear of water known as hydrophobia. In under a month, most people died of hypertension and respiratory failure. Each year, however, hundreds of thousands of people survive rabies thanks to post-exposure treatment, of which 99 percent of cases were caused by domestic dogs, according to the World Health Organization.
In infected animals, these strange symptoms make the individual more aggressive and rabid, thereby increasing the chance they will bite another animal and further spread the virus, which is impressively clever and totally terrifying.
SESAB are now advising people to vaccinate their pets and keep all their windows shut during the night. They also advise people to immediately seek medical help if they think they have been bitten and to wash the wound site immediately with soap and water.
Salvador was founded by the Portuguese colonizers in the 16th century as the first capital of Brazil, so many of its neighborhoods are filled with old large buildings. The authorities say these abandoned structures could be acting as the perfect shelter for the bats. Furthermore increased urbanization and destruction of habitat is pushing the species out of their more rural homes, forcing them to come into contact with more humans. Since the area doesn’t have many horses or cows, the bats have turned to human blood.
There have been similar spates of vampire bat attacks over the past few years in South America. In 2010, four children died and over 500 people were bitten following a rise of vampire bat attacks in Peru.