Vampire bats target humans in Brazil: One dead

Edivalson Francisco Souza died more than a week after he was bitten

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Vampire bats have sparked panic in north east Brazil, where they have started feasting on humans, leaving one man dead and more than 40 people being treated for rabies.

Health chiefs confirmed farmer Edivalson Francisco Souza, 46, died in March more than a week after he was bitten on the foot by a rabies-carrying vampire bat.

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Within days of his death - the first recorded case of human rabies transmitted by a bat in Brazil since 2004 - dozens of people in the region reported being bitten by the winged mammals in their own homes, they said.

The spate of attacks, the most significant ever registered in the region, is being attributed to a rise in the bat population nesting close to humans after their homes in caves and forestry were destroyed.

In response, disease control teams from Bahia state health authority (SESAB) have started culling the creatures by catching them and applying a venom paste to their bodies.

Credits: Janet Tappin Coelho/FocusOn News

Edivalson Francisco Souza, 46, died of rabies after being bitten by a vampire bat

Mr Souza was milking a cow on a farm in Paramirim when he accidentally stepped on a rabies-carrying bat that bit his foot.

He dismissed the incident and washed the wound but failed to see a doctor.

Three weeks later, after spending seven days in hospital, suffering from headaches, nausea, severe anxiety and shortness of breath, he recalled the incident.

He tested positive for rabies, but it was too late for doctors to administer the vaccine and he passed away shortly afterwards in March this year.

Credits: Robson Coelho Focus On News

Residents in the historic city centre of Salvador have reported being attacked by bats

SESAB immediately issued a public health alert, warning of the risks of contracting rabies and advising of ways to stay vigilant.

Within days of Mr Souza's death, residents in city of Salvador, 400 miles from Paramirim, reported a flurry of attacks by the blood-thirsty creatures that appear to have added human blood to their menu.

Over the past three months, dozens of people have told of being terrorised by the flying mammals at night.

Many said they had woken up to the distressing sight of their bed sheets soaked in blood after bats had sunk their fangs into their toes, heels and elbows.

Vampire bats have started biting humans in Brazil

Mother and son, Rose Fernandes and Matheus Andrade, were both bitten by bats

One of the victims, Matheus Andrade, who lives in the historic city, said: "I was bitten three times, twice on my toes and once on my heel, on two successive nights around the middle of May.

"I didn't realise until the second time that I had been attacked by a bat. At first I thought I had somehow cut my toe during the night.

"I normally sleep with the windows and doors open and the bats flew in. I never felt any pain at all on both the nights I was bitten. But in my dreams, I did feel as if something had hooked itself onto my toe.

Vampire bats biting humans in Brazil

Matheus Andrade has told how he was bitten three times on his foot, on two successive nights

"When I woke up in the morning, I found the bed was wet. It had been raining overnight and I thought water had dripped in. But it was my blood. It was such a shock.

"The wound was tiny but deep, the blood was dark and thick and the area wouldn't stop bleeding even when I tried washing it off."

The 22-year-old refrigerator engineer was not the only member of his family to suffer the terrifying ordeal.

Credits: Janet Tappin Coelho/FocusOn News

Matheus said he didn't feel any pain when he was bitten

His mum, Rose Fernandes, 54, said: "I was bitten on my toe too while I slept. I didn't feel anything. My husband woke me up and showed me the dirty sheet.

"We thought I had cut myself without knowing. But as soon as Matheus told me the same thing had happened to him we realised it had to be a bat because of the fang like puncture marks in our toes.

"It has never happened before and it was very frightening. Now we shut up all the windows and doors at night even though it's hot.

Credits: Janet Tappin Coelho/FocusOn News

Matheus said the wound wouldn't stop bleeding

"And it's a good thing we did because the other night I woke up in the early hours of the morning at 1:30 because I heard something banging up against the window.

"The bat that had bitten me before seemed to have come back for more and was trying to get in. It kept hitting against the glass. It even flew away at some distance and came hurtling back even harder slamming up against the window," recalled the teaching assistant.

Both mum and son went to the Couto Maia Hospital and have been prescribed 30 days of anti-rabies and tetanus vaccines, which must be taken until the middle of June.

Credits: Janet Tappin Coelho/FocusOn News

Disease control agents have been vaccinating pets

Credits: Janet Tappin Coelho/FocusOn News

Health officials have also been warning residents about the dangers of rabies-carrying bats

According to veterinarian Aroldo Carneiro, it's common for people to confuse a bat bite with a simple cut.

Vampire bats, or the common bat, are small nocturnal creatures with a wingspan of about eight inches. They only live in the Americas and feed solely on blood, puncturing the skin of their prey with sharp incisors.

Carneiro, who heads the rabies surveillance unit, explained: "The bite does not cause intense pain because in bat saliva there are analgesic and anticoagulant substances, the latter prevents the quick healing of the wound."

He stressed that bat attacks on humans are rare in Salvador but cited destruction of the nocturnal mammals' natural habitat and large numbers of abandoned properties in the city centre as factors contributing to the outbreak.

Credits: Janet Tappin Coelho/FocusOn News

Vampire bats have started feasting on humans in Brazil

He said: "We have detected shifts in bat behaviour and a worrying increase in the population in the area. We believe this is due to deforestation and the destruction of caves, which forces the bats to migrate to the cities.

"The city centre does not have the normal source of food for hematophagous beings (who feed on blood) such as horses and cattle. The Vampire bats must find an alternative to live so they bite dogs and cats, and when these aren't available they turn to humans.

"In addition, there are many buildings in the historical centre of Salvador which are abandoned and have openings that give access to the wild animals. The empty places provide shelter and nesting sites and this has allowed the numbers to grow."

Credits: Janet Tappin Coelho/FocusOn News

Agents have started culling vampire bats by catching them and applying a venom paste to their bodies

To combat the wave of attacks a task force of disease control agents have been visiting homes in the terrorised neighbourhoods advising residents on how to protect themselves at night by keeping windows and doors shut, putting up mesh screens, plugging cracks in the roof that can serve as an entrance for the animals, illuminating dark areas in the house and not leaving fruit out overnight.

The teams have been vaccinating cats and dogs. Last year, 91,000 dogs and 32,000 cats were immunised, and agents have been reemphasising to residents that rabies is almost always fatal unless victims receive early preventative treatment.

Recent surveillance action resulted in the capture of 16 bats and lab tests identified the presence of the rabies virus in a couple of those caught.

Carneiro said: "Our disease surveillance teams have been out over the weekend controlling the numbers by trapping them and putting a venom paste on their bodies. This poison is passed on when they make contact with other bats.

"They must to be culled because there are too many in the area, living too close to residents."

Professor Valdirene Meira da Cunha, 42, believes a bat mistook her home for a cave because after feasting on her big toe, it took refuge on her wall.

She said: "I turned on the light and I couldn't believe it, the bed was covered with my blood. I don't know what made me look up, but when I did I saw the bat hanging on the wall above my head.

"It was like a scene out of a horror movie, it was absolutely terrifying and my scream woke everyone up."

Pensioner Ubaldina dos Santos, 85, said she has not been able to sleep since the outbreak in the area.

"We're trying not to panic.," she said anxiously.

"But the houses we live in are old, with crevices and cracks where the bats can enter. Everyone is living in fear of waking up and finding a Vampire bat drinking their blood like Dracula," she added.

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