Close-up of the upper torso and head of a vampire bat.
A vampire bat alone won't kill a human, but rabies will. (Photo Credit: CC BY/Justin/Flickr)

The blood lust of a vampire bat has been sated, and as a result, the first U.S. death by vampire bat bite has occurred. A 19-year-old Mexican migrant who was bitten on July 15 in Mexico died recently in a New Orleans hospital. It is believed that rabies was the cause of the young man’s painful death.

First US death by vampire bat

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that this death by vampire bat bite is the first in recorded U.S. history. The man reportedly came from his home state of Michoacán, Mexico, to Louisiana on July 29 to work in a sugar cane plantation. After working a single day, he complained of excessive fatigue, shoulder pain and limb numbness.

By Aug. 3, the young man was in the hospital with a high fever and an abnormally high white blood cell count. Doctors tested for everything from encephalitis and meningitis to HIV, Lyme disease and beyond. Each test came back negative, and the patient continued to fade. Soon, he was breathing through a tube.

There are no vampire bats in the U.S. outside of zoos, so the team of doctors didn’t immediately consider a vampire bat bite. Doctors eventually noticed a bite on his heel and investigated it. Vampire bats usually prey on sleeping victims, so the man hadn’t known what the bite was from. The bat gave him rabies. The discovery prompted the doctors to alert Louisiana’s public health office, and every person who had come into contact with the man was found and notified. There is no evidence to suggest that the infection spread.

One day after the man’s rabies test came back positive, he died.

Vampire bats know how to find you

Vampire bats are known to feed on fresh, warm blood, whether it be from animals or human beings. Science Daily points out that an adult vampire bat can drink half its body weight in blood once it finds a good vein. In order to find a good set of veins in its environment, the vampire bat uses specialized heat sensors near its nose to zero in on prey. Scientists believe that these bats can use these sensory organs to “see” warm blood from a fair distance.

Don’t get up, please

Vampire bats prefer to feed on sleeping animals and humans, and they have special brain cells that are highly sensitive to deep breathing sounds made by sleeping creatures. Once they find a sleeping meal, vampire bats can deftly bite down and feed without being detected. It helps that their razor-sharp teeth can quickly create a 0.2 inch-by-0.2 inch square divot in the skin, allowing for quick access to the blood.

Vampire bats must drink blood to survive


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