First 2021 case of rabies in Utah bat confirmed

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FILE — In this Feb. 8, 2017 file photo, a northern long-eared bat is held at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, in Cleveland. Tree-cutting on a key stretch of a power line in western Maine is going to stop almost as soon as it started to protect the newly born young of the federally protected bat. A federal appeals court last week gave the green light for construction on a 53-mile segment of the New England Clean Energy Connect, but construction will have to stop in June and July to protect the northern long-eared bat, which has been hard-hit by so-called white nose syndrome. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak, File)

SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – The year’s first case of rabies in a Utah bat has been confirmed.

While the Utah Department of Health has not released details of where the bat was found, they are reminding the public of the health risk of being exposed to rabies through contact with infected bats or other wildlife.

In Utah, bats are the primary carrier of the rabies virus. According to UDOH, rabies affects the nervous system of humans and animals alike. You 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.”

Clark County, Nevada, located a couple of hours southwest of St. George, Utah, recently confirmed two cases of rabies in bats.

What are the symptoms of rabies?

While symptoms in humans may not appear for weeks or months after infection, UDOH says they may initially appear to be similar to the flu, then progress to anxiety, confusion, abnormal behavior, and delirium.

Once the clinical signs of rabies appear in a person, the disease is nearly always fatal.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, rabies-related human deaths are rare but typically occur in people who do not seek prompt medical care.

If an animal has rabies, you may notice changes in normal behavior, like aggression, attacking without reason, foaming at the mouth, no interest in eating or drinking, staggering, or even paralysis. Wild animals may act strangely tame or unafraid of humans.

Infected bats may be seen flying around in the daytime, resting on the ground, or may show no noticeable signs at all, according to UDOH. Because you cannot tell if an animal is rabid just by looking at it, you should always use precaution when near wild animals, dogs, or cats you do not know.

What to do if you’re near a bat or rabid animal

“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,” says Hannah Rettler, an epidemiologist with UDOH.

If you do 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 your local health department to report it and receive instructions for submitting animals for testing and 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 another wild animal, immediately wash the wound. If the animal is available, call your local animal control office or Utah Division of Wildlife Resources to collect the animal for rabies testing.

You should never handle a wild animal with bare hands, according to UDOH. Instead, work with your local health department to determine if the bite victim needs rabies treatment after exposure.

UDOH encourages following these guidelines to reduce the risk of getting rabies, in addition to vaccinating your pets:

  • 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 your local division of wildlife office or animal control agency.
  • 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 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.

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