August 16, 2010
At least four children died after rapid vampire bats attacked Awajun indigenous communities in a remote part of Peru, reports the BBC.
Peru's health ministry sent emergency teams to vaccinate villagers in the affected area of Urakusa, which is located close to the border with Ecuador. More than 500 people were reportedly bitten by vampire bats. Most have now been vaccinated.
Rabies, a viral disease that affects the central nervous system by causing acute encephalitis, is almost invariably fatal once symptoms have developed, usually within days of exposure. The disease can be treated with a vaccine if administered prior to the onset of symptoms.
While vampire bats are well-known carriers of rabies, other warm-blooded mammals -- including dogs, cats, ferrets, raccoons, skunks, and foxes -- can become rabid. The disease is generally spread between animals and humans by bites.
Vampire bats are found across Latin America from Mexico to Argentina and Chile and feed on the blood of warm-blooded animals such as birds, horses, cattle, and, from time to time, humans. Past rabies outbreaks among vampires in the Amazon have been linked to deforestation for cattle ranching, which has dramatically expanded in the region in recent decades. Cattle have become a key food source for vampire bats, which feed by using their chisel-like incisor teeth to make a small incision in the skin of their prey. Animals fed upon by vampires are rarely injured or killed by the feeding unless the bats are rabid.
Rabies outbreaks from vampire bats are a regular occurrence in Amazon countries. The highest toll came in 1990 when 73 people were killed in Brazil.