SALT LAKE CITY -- A Utah resident died from rabies earlier this month, and the death is the first fatal rabies case in the state since 1944.
According to the Utah Department of Health, the patient is a Utah resident who died earlier this month, but they are not releasing any additional information about the victim or the family.
Family members identified him as Gary Giles, and have set up a gofundme page to help with funeral expenses.
The health department suspects exposure to a bat is the source of the infection and said exposure to bats is the most common pathway to rabies for people and animals in Utah.
"Because a bat’s teeth and claws are so small, a bat bite or scratch may not be seen or felt by the injured person," the department stated in a press release. "Anyone who is bitten by a bat, has bare skin contact with a bat, or has other potential contact with a bat (such as waking up in a room with a bat) should contact their health care provider or local health department for advice on whether they should receive treatment to prevent rabies. Since rabies is nearly always fatal once symptoms develop, all potential exposures must be taken seriously."
Rabies affects the nervous systems of humans and animals, and people can contract the virus through a bite, a scratch of from the saliva of an infected animal. The only known cases of human-to-human transmission occurred among recipients of transplanted corneas or solid organs.
Health officials warn Utahns to use caution if they encounter a bat.
“If you find yourself near a bat, dead or alive, do not touch, hit, or kill it,” said Dallin Peterson, epidemiologist with the Utah Department of Health (UDOH).
Peterson adds, “Call your health care provider or local public health department immediately to report the possible exposure and determine whether preventive treatment is necessary.”
An estimated 40,000 people receive a rabies prevention treatment in the U.S. each year.
The health department provided the following guidelines for reducing your risk of exposure:
"In addition to vaccinating your pets, following these guidelines can help reduce your risk for getting rabies.
NEVER TOUCH A BAT. Keep bats out of your home. Seal any cracks and gaps where bats can enter.
Keep your pets inside and supervise them when outside. This will help keep your pets from coming in contact with wild animals.
Report stray animals to local authorities. Call your local animal control officials to report stray dogs and cats.
Don't approach wild animals. Wild animals with rabies may seem unafraid of people. It's not normal for a wild animal to be friendly with people, so stay away from any animal that seems unafraid. If you see a wild animal acting strangely, report it to animal control.
In domestic animals, signs of rabies may include behavior changes, general sickness, trouble swallowing, an increase in drool or saliva, and biting at everything, if excited.
Consider rabies pre-exposure vaccine if you're traveling out of the country. If you're traveling to a country where rabies is common and you'll be there for an extended period of time, ask your doctor whether you should receive the rabies vaccine before you travel.
Take action if you are bitten. If you are bitten by any animal (domestic or wild), immediately wash the wound well with soap and water and see a health care provider. "