12 Locals Killed by Bat Rabies in Peruvian Amazon -- 5 Facts About This Rare Infection

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Feb 11, 2016 11:00 AM EST

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 20: A Grey-Headed Flying Fox flies through the air at the Royal Botanic Gardens March 20, 2008 in Sydney, Australia. Flying Foxes, or fruit bats, have taken up permanent roosts in the Botanic Gardens, causing major damage to heritage trees in the park. The Royal Botanic Gardens has begun a program to deter the flying foxes from roosting, as there are now some 11,000 bats roosting in the park. Deterents include noise to disturb sleep patterns, plastic bags attached to branches of trees, strobe lights, odours, and the playing of taped distress calls. (Photo : Ian Waldie/Getty Images )

Indigenous communities living in the Peruvian Amazon are threatened by increasing rabies infection from bats. Some 12 residents have apparently died from the disease in recent months, Reuters reported and it is alarming the local government.

Fernando Melendez, the local governor of the Achuar native village in the Loreto region, confirmed the deaths and stated that health workers have been trying to get the people living near the Morona river vaccinated following the infection. Of the deaths, at least three have been children. "Today the people of Loreto are living a tragedy," Melendez said.

La Prensa reported that the health ministry in Peru is planning to deliver 7,500 vaccines in affected areas. They have received reports of the infection as far back as October. However, the confirmation was only done in the last month after visits by health workers.

Below are five things you should know about bat rabies affecting the Amazonian tribes.

1) Many of the indigenous communities have no access to proper health care.

It's one of the problems challenging Peru's health care workers as affected communities are hard to reach by roads. Vaccination and medical emergencies cannot be immediately administered and some of the sick don't get medical attention for days, The Guardian reported.

2) Rabies has been on the decline in Latin America since 2011.

A report from the Emerging Infections Disease journal of the CDC stated that cases of rabies have dropped down in Peru, Brazil and Argentina in the last few years. The risk to humans has supposedly been curtailed.

3) Bat rabies cases are different.

From the same report, while dog rabies and infection in humans have gone down, bat rabies remain high in numbers. In fact, half of the reported cases of rabies infection in previous years were linked to bats. SciELO Brazil cited that bat rabies is complex especially when there are many bat conservations in Latin America.

4) Bats usually avoid human contact.

Bats Organization cited that these creatures don't usually come into contact with humans, so the risk shouldn't be present if a person isn't handling bats. However, the Amazon has been threatened by rainforest destruction and it is affecting the natural habitats of the bats. In 2005, a wave of bat attacks took place in Brazil as the creatures hunted for food among cattle raised by the locals, BBC reported.

5) Not a lot is being done to prevent bat rabies.

Despite its impact on the ecology, economics and cultures, bat surveillance and needed further studies in developing countries like Peru has been limited, SciELO Brazil further cited.

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