- Associated Press - Sunday, June 8, 2014

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas (AP) - The death of a Guatemalan immigrant from rabies last year at a Corpus Christi hospital set off an international search for others who may have been exposed.

More than 700 people were assessed for rabies exposure in what Ryan Wallace, a rabies expert for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, called a “very rare scenario,” the Corpus Christi Caller-Times reported (https://bit.ly/1kIVAJt ).

Federico Mendez-Hernandez, 28, began showing symptoms only several days after Border Patrol captured him in South Texas following his illegal entry in May 2013. At an immigrant detention center, Mendez-Hernandez repeatedly visited its medical clinic with symptoms including excessive saliva, anxiety, insomnia, trouble swallowing and a rapid heart rate, according to CDC reports.

Nine days after his initial capture, Mendez-Hernandez was taken to Christus Spohn Hospital Kleberg. Doctors discovered air between his chest and lungs. His condition worsened after he was taken to Christus Spohn Hospital Memorial in Corpus Christi and he eventually needed a ventilator to breathe. His temperature hit 104 degrees.

“On the surgery ICU side, they couldn’t figure out what was wrong with him,” said Dr. Andy Russell, an emergency medicine resident at Memorial. “He didn’t seem to have any surgical issue … He was very unstable, teetering on multi-organ failure, but we couldn’t figure out why.”

His symptoms seemed to be textbook rabies, but there are only one to six rabies deaths in the U.S. each year.

“The more we thought about it, the more we thought maybe he does have rabies,” Russell said. Tests came back positive.

There’s never been a laboratory-confirmed case of human-to-human rabies transfer, except for organ transplants. But Mendez-Hernandez had traveled through four federal detention centers and two hospitals before being taken off life support on June 11, 2013.

Health investigators identified 742 people who had been exposed to Mendez-Hernandez. Ultimately, rabies vaccines were recommended for 23, among them, three agents who scuffled with him during his arrest, other detainees and five health care workers.

The CDC was unable to determine how Mendez-Hernandez had contracted the incurable virus. His virus was a close match to one in dogs in Guatemala, but no bite marks were found on his body and his family did not recall him being bitten.


Information from: Corpus Christi Caller-Times, https://www.caller.com

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