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Utahns urged to avoid contact with bats after positive rabies tests

Posted at 10:44 AM, Jul 28, 2020

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah public health officials are reminding everyone about the danger bats can pose to your health.

In Utah, bats are the primary carrier of the rabies virus and so far in 2020, 44 bats have been tested for rabies and four tested positive.

Hannah Rettler, epidemiologist with the Utah Department of Health (UDOH) says several investigations involve bat infestations in family homes.

“This is why it’s so important to make sure your household pets are vaccinated against rabies,” Rettler said. “In some situations, families needed to put their pets down because pets were exposed to a wild animal, hadn’t been vaccinated, and the animal couldn’t be found for testing.”

Utah law requires all domestic dogs, cats, and ferrets to receive the rabies vaccine. Utahns are asked to work with their veterinarian to ensure their pets are up to date on their rabies vaccines.

Rabies affects the nervous system of humans and animals. A person may contract rabies through a bite, scratch, or saliva from the infected animal. Unfortunately, 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. However, because rabies is considered 100 percent fatal once symptoms develop, all potential exposures must be taken seriously. In November of 2018, a Utah resident died from rabies believed to be the result of exposure to a rabid bat.

“If you find yourself near a bat, dead or alive, do not touch, hit, or destroy it and do not try to remove it from your home yourself,” Rettler said. “Call your local animal control office to collect the bat and call your healthcare provider or local public health department immediately to report the possible exposure and determine whether preventive treatment is necessary.”

Every year, it is estimated that 40,000 people receive a rabies prevention treatment called post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) due to a potential exposure to rabies. Not all animal exposures will require PEP. Most people are given PEP due to close contact with domestic animals.

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 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 Utah Division of Wildlife Services.
  • Consider the rabies pre-exposure vaccine if you're traveling to a country where rabies is common. Ask your healthcare provider or travel clinic whether you should receive the rabies vaccine.
  • 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 healthcare provider. Contact animal control if you are bitten by an animal, to assist in capturing the animal for observation or rabies testing.

For more information on rabies, click here.