A high school football player, diagnosed with rabies only eight days earlier, died at Texas Children's Hospital in Houston last Friday. Zachary Jones, 16, of Humble, Texas, was reportedly infected with the disease by a bat which flew into his room through an open window. Zach awoke from a nap and found the bat in his room, unaware that it had bitten him.

The bite which caused the fatal illness occurred several weeks ago. Zach's parents found the bat and released it outside, not knowing their son had been bitten. They did not seek medical attention until Zach became ill. Experts say that bats have such small, sharp teeth, a person could be bitten and not realize it.

Cases of rabies in humans are extremely rare in the United States, with only about three reported each year; 55,000 occur annually worldwide. There is only one known unvaccinated survivor of the fatal disease. Jeanna Giese, of Wisconsin, was 15 in the fall of 2004 when she was bitten by a bat. She responded well to an experimental treatment in which she was put into a coma and given anti-viral drugs. The same treatment was attempted with Zach, but his disease had progressed too rapidly for the drugs to help him.

Public health experts say that there are no documented cases of human-to-human transmission of rabies. They do advise that it is possible, in theory, to transmit the disease through saliva, as when friends drink from the same cup. For that reason, several of Zach's friends and team members have sought medical attention; some are receiving a series of vaccines.

Officials with the Center for Disease Control advise that anyone who comes in physical contact with a bat should seek immediate medical attention. The best prevention is to avoid any contact with bats or other wild animals, and to make sure your household pets are up to date on their rabies vaccines.