By Edith Honan
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Massachusetts reported its first case of human rabies since 1935, state health officials said on Friday, after confirming that a Cape Cod man in his 60s had fallen ill with the rare but fatal disease.
The Massachusetts Department of Public Health said it had determined the man, who was not identified by name, was "diagnosed with rabies." The man is hospitalized in critical condition, they said.
"The Department of Public Health is awaiting confirmation from the (Centers for Disease Control) CDC regarding the species that infected this Massachusetts resident," state health officials said in a statement, adding that most cases of human rabies in the U.S. have been linked to exposure to bats.
South Carolina health officials earlier this month said a middle-aged woman died after contracting the state's first case of human rabies in half a century.
The rabies virus, which is carried in the saliva of infected animals, is generally spread when an animal bites or comes in close contact with a human or another animal, Massachusetts health officials said.
The rabies virus infects the central nervous system, ultimately causing disease in the brain and death. The early symptoms of rabies in people are similar to those of many other illnesses, including fever, headache, and general weakness or discomfort, the CDC says on its website.
"If a person knows that he or she has been exposed to rabies, disease can be prevented in people by administering vaccine and antibodies promptly," officials said. There have not been documented cases of human-to-human spread of rabies except in a few cases involving organ transplants.
One to three human rabies cases are reported in the United States each year, mostly due to exposure to rabid bats. About 55,000 people die of rabies every year in other parts of the world, largely due to exposure to rabid dogs, officials said.
Rabies was first found in bats in Massachusetts in 1961.
(Reporting by Edith Honan; Editing by Greg McCune)