|RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil - Up to 22 people may have died after being bitten by rabies-carrying vampire bats in Brazil\'s Amazon state of Para, scientists say.|
Amiraldo Pinheiro, director of Para state\'s epidemic research centre, said 17 deaths from rabies had been confirmed in people known to have been bitten by bats. In five more cases the deceased showed typical rabies symptoms but were buried without an autopsy.
Fifteen of the confirmed deaths were in the remote riverside Portel area, next to the world\'s biggest estuarine archipelago of Marajo and two more, including the latest on May 19, in Viseu region some 280 miles (450 km) to the east.
Pinheiro said epidemiologists from the state health authority found about 1,130 people who had been bitten by the thumb-sized bats over the past 12 months in Viseu and about 600 people in Portel.
Health ministry representatives arrived in Para on Monday to help study the outbreak.
Rabies has an incubation period of about a year, during which vaccine has to be applied. Otherwise, rabies leads to death in 100 percent of the cases.
All bite victims received vaccines and other anti-rabies treatment, and Pinheiro said the situation was now under control with an awareness campaign among the population.
\"Cattle and pets deaths will show if bats keep attacking, but we hope there will be no more deaths among humans,\" he said.
Deforestation is one of the suspected reasons for bat attacks on humans, as it could have changed bats\' migration patterns.
Vampire bats normally feed on the blood of large birds and sleeping cattle, lapping it from cuts they make with their teeth. They often transmit rabies to cattle. They are not aggressive and fly away if scared.
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