Guyana. What we know about the death of a man infected with rabies

Guyana.  What we know about the death of a man infected with rabies

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A man died after being infected with rabies in Guyana, authorities in the Overseas region said Thursday evening. The patient had been admitted to the intensive care unit of Cayenne hospital and had come from the Eau Claire gold mining site. This is the first documented case in sixteen years in Guyana and the second known human case in the territory. Here’s what we know.

What are the circumstances of death?

Little is known about this rabies-related death. The prefecture and the ARS of Guyana simply indicate in a statement that the person was admitted to intensive care “between February 17 and March 1, 2024” and that they died “within 10 days” of their admission. The presence of the rabies virus was confirmed in the results of biological analyzes “at the beginning of the week”.

How was the virus transmitted?

How the patient contracted the rabies virus is not known at this time. Speaking to AFP, Anne Lavergne, head of the virus/host interactions laboratory at the Pasteur Institute, however, indicates that “the main reservoir of rabies in South America is the vampire bats Desmodus rotundus”. It is possible that “an entire colony of bats was infected over a short period of time, leading to a higher probability of encounters in a localized human population,” she adds.

In their press release, the prefecture and the ARS of Guyana specify that a “public health mission is planned soon on the site to assess the situation”.

Are there other cases?

The joint press release from the ARS of Guyana and the prefecture indicates that “three people from the Eau claire gold panning site were admitted to intensive care at Cayenne hospital and died on average within 10 days following their admission. This press release also specifies that if the analyzes proved contamination by rabies in one of the patients, “the analyzes are in progress for the two other patients”, suggesting that they could also have been contaminated by rabies.

“Unexplained deaths occur from time to time. There, these are grouped cases with links between them”, noted moreover, in the media France-Guyanathe head of the CHC intensive care unit Hatem Kallel.

And these three cases might not be the only ones. In mid-March, before the rabies case was known, the Guyane television channel La 1ère thus reported a fourth gold miner who died “in the forest” in the Eau Claire sector. “There could have been one or two more deaths on illegal sites, according to our information,” the media also reported.

Finally, the prefecture and the ARS of Guyana announced that a “risk analysis” had been launched “for potentially exposed professionals”.

What are the precedents?

The last known case of rabies in Guyana dates back to May 2008. It was then the first human case identified in the department. At the time, the virus identified was “a desmodin-type lyssavirus originating from a blood-sucking bat,” according to Santé Publique France. But the exact origin of the contamination had not been identified: “the contamination of the case could have come from a bat bite or the bite of a cat that died in March which itself would have been infected by a bat,” detailed the national public health agency in a document published six months later.

Following the discovery of this case, 112 people were referred to the Anti-Rabies Center of the Pasteur Institute of Guyana (62 in the family/relationship circle and 50 in a hospital environment) and 88 of them had benefited from an anti-rabies vaccination. No one treated showed signs of rabies afterwards.

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