Accorsing to CDC rabies specialist James Ellison, thermal imaging is now providing new ways to detect rabies in live animals (especially bats), thus providing a means of eradicating them before they can pass on the disease to others. Until now, the only accurate way to detect the virus was to inspect brain tissue from dead animals.
Ironically, while researchers have found that temperatures go up in noses of raccoons with rabies, thermal imaging has shown that the faces of bats infected with rabies tend to be “cooler than those of healthy animals within their colonies.”
In fact, tests is which 24 bats were purposely infected with the rabies virus showed that 13 of them had a drop of more than 39.2 degrees fahrenheit in their faces after developing the disease.
“This is truly surprising since rabies causes inflammation that creates heat,” remarked Ellison.
Approximately 55,000 humans die of rabies each year throughout the world* (particularly in Asia and Africa). And while most are the result of being bitten by rabid dogs, the dogs, themselves, are most likely to have been infected by diseased bats. The virus, which is actually passed from one species to another through saliva. Once it reaches the central nervous system and symptoms begin to show, the infection is virtually untreatable and usually fatal within days.
Early symptoms of rabies include malaise, headache and fever, progressing to acute pain, violent movements, uncontrolled excitement, depression, and hydrophobia. In the end the patient may experience periods of mania and lethargy, eventually leading to coma. The primary cause of death is usually respiratory insufficiency.
*Thanks to aggressive animal control and vaccination programs here in the US, domestic dogs here no longer harbor rabies. In addition, a number of countries including Japan and Australia have succeeded in eliminating rabies carried by terrestrial animals entirely. The same is true for the United Kingdom. Although infected bats have recently turned up in Scotland.