As promised the county's public health office released a follow-up press release today about the human rabies infection that was diagnosed last week, but there's not much new information. Officials are still looking for the animal that caused the infection, and the patient's condition has not changed substantially over the weekend, according to the release. (The victim is at a Sacramento-area hospital.)
"We want to stress that there is no risk to the general population," Humboldt County Health Officer Dr. Ann Lindsay said in the release. "Everyone who needs post-exposure treatment is receiving it."
Reached by phone, Public Health Dept. Senior Program Manager Mike Goldsby said he couldn't comment on the patient's condition. However he did acknowledge that "It's a serious situation."
Goldsby said the victim did not immediately report having had contact with an infected animal. "My understanding is that the patient had seen some local providers and when the condition worsened [the patient] was then transferred out of the area. ... It took a while for this [diagnosis] to happen. Typically what occurs is a person reports a contact or a bite -- a potential infection. That gets investigated and then it's determined if it's necessary to administer a vaccine. With this one there was no initial report of contact or a bite."
There has only been one recorded case of human survival of rabies in the absence of preceding vaccination or postexposure prophylaxis -- a teenage girl from Wisconsin who contracted the disease in 2004.
"The number-one thing residents can do to protect themselves and their families is to vaccinate their domestic animals," Lindsay said in the press release. "Secondly, residents should notify law enforcement of any animals exhibiting unusual behaviors."
Thanks mostly to domestic animal vaccinations, human rabies in the United States is rare. Since the 1990s, only one or two cases have been reported each year.
Asked if there would be any more updates forthcoming on the patient's condition or the source of the infection, Goldsby said he didn't know, but that he hoped for progress on the identification of the source. And he expressed sympathy for the victim.
"Of course our heart goes out to this family and this individual," Goldsby said. "You never know. You hope for the best."