First Case of Human Rabies in Chile Caused by an Insectivorous Bat Virus Variant

Myriam Favi, Instituto de Salud Pública, Ministerio de Salud Pública, Santiago, Chile; Carlos A. de Mattos, Verónica Yung, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Evelyn Chala, Luis R. López,f Rancagua, Rancagua, Chile Cecilia C. de Mattos, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, Georgia, USA


Emerging Infectious Diseases. 2002;8(1) 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction

The first human rabies case in Chile since 1972 occurred in March 1996 in a patient without history of known exposure. Antigenic and genetic characterization of the rabies isolate indicated that its reservoir was the insectivorous bat Tadarida brasiliensis. This is the first human rabies case caused by an insectivorous bat rabies virus variant reported in Latin America.

In Latin America, rabies in bats was suspected during the 1910s in Brazil and was definitively diagnosed for the first time in Trinidad in 1931[1,2]. Since then, rabies has been diagnosed in numerous species of nonhematophagous bats throughout this region[3]. Despite these early discoveries, the important role of nonhematophagous bats in the epidemiology of the disease remained overshadowed by the presence of canine and vampire bat rabies in the region[4]. During the past decade, with the control of dog rabies in many urban areas and the incorporation of antigenic and molecular typing of viral variants into rabies surveillance programs, an appreciation for the importance of nonhematophagous bats in rabies epidemiology began to emerge in Latin America[5,6,7,8,9]. Rabies virus has been isolated frequently from insectivorous and frugivorous bats in cities across Latin America[5,10,11,12]. This situation also characterizes the current epidemiologic pattern of rabies in Chile, where dog rabies has been controlled. The last human rabies case in Chile caused by a dog bite occurred in 1972[5]; since 1985, insectivorous bats have been the main rabies reservoirs identified. As such, these bats are the most important source of infection for the sporadic rabies cases diagnosed in domestic animals every year[5]. In 1996, after a period of 24 years with no known human rabies deaths, the first human rabies case with an insectivorous bat as the source of infection was reported in Chile[13].