SALT LAKE CITY — Utah public health officials have confirmed the first case this year of a bat that tested positive for rabies.
This is a reminder to the public about the health risk of exposure to rabies through contact with infected bats and other wildlife. In Utah, bats are the primary carrier of the rabies virus. While bats play an important role in our ecosystem, we should enjoy them from a safe distance.
Rabies affects the nervous system of humans and animals. A person may contract rabies through a bite, scratch, or saliva from the infected animal. Because a bat’s teeth and claws are so small, a bat bite or scratch may not be seen or even felt by the injured person, so any suspected exposure to a bat should be reported and taken seriously. Symptoms in humans may not appear for weeks to months after infection, and may initially be similar to the flu, then progress to anxiety, confusion, abnormal behavior, and delirium. Once clinical signs of rabies appear in a person, the disease is nearly always fatal.
Signs of rabies in animals include obvious changes in normal behavior such as aggression, attacking without reason, foaming at the mouth, no interest in food or water, staggering, or paralysis. Wild animals may act uncharacteristically tame or unafraid of humans. Infected bats may be seen flying around during the daytime, resting on the ground, or may show no noticeable signs at all. You cannot tell if an animal is rabid just by looking at it, so always use precaution when you are near wild animals, dogs, or cats you do not know.
“If you find yourself near a bat, dead or alive, do not touch, hit, or destroy it and do not try to remove it yourself,” said Hannah Rettler, epidemiologist with the Utah Department of Health (UDOH). If you see an animal exhibiting any signs or think a pet or person may have been exposed to a rabid animal, call 1-888-EPI-UTAH (374-8824) or contact your local health department to report it and receive instructions for submitting animals for testing and to determine whether preventive treatment is necessary.
Report all human and animal exposures to bats, regardless of whether the bat appears to be rabid.
If a person or pet has been exposed to a bat, or other wild animal, immediately wash the wound. If the animal is available, call your local animal control officer or Utah Division of Wildlife Resources to collect the animal for rabies testing.
Never handle a wild animal with bare hands. Work with your local health department to determine if the bite victim needs rabies treatment after exposure.
In addition to vaccinating your pets, following these guidelines can help reduce your risk for getting rabies.
- Keep your pets inside and supervise them when outside. This will help keep your pets from coming in contact with wild animals.
- 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 the DWR or animal control.
- Keep bats out of your home. Seal any cracks and gaps where bats can enter your home. If you know you have bats in your home, work with a local expert to find ways to keep bats out or contact the DWR.
- Consider the rabies pre-exposure vaccine if you are traveling to a country where rabies is common. Ask your healthcare provider or travel clinic whether you should receive the rabies vaccine.
- If you or your pet are exposed to a wild animal, the Utah Public Health Laboratory can test the wild animal for rabies if testing is warranted.
- If you are bitten by any animal (domestic or wild), immediately wash the wound well with soap and water and see a healthcare provider. If you are bitten by a dog, cat or ferret, contact animal control and they can assist in coordinating quarantine and observation of the animal. Contact your local health department to help determine if you need PEP.
For more information on rabies, check out the state health department website.