Utah DWR: What happens if you’re bit by a rabid animal?

Local News

Courtesy: Utah Division of Wildlife Resources

SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – If you’re heading out to the wilderness soon, you’ll likely encounter wildlife. What happens if a rabid animal scratches or bites you or your pet?

The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR) and the Utah Department of Health (UDOH) reported a few recent incidents involving rabid wildlife. Officials are offering tips on what to do in the unlikely event you’ve had contact with rabid animals.

Officials say rabies is still fairly uncommon, but the threat is always present in nature. Since 2016, Utah has seen 59 cases of a human being exposed to a confirmed rabid animal and 37 pets that have been exposed to rabid wildlife. There was one instance of a human fatality in 2018 after a rabies exposure, authorities say.

Since 2016 in Utah, 96 wild animals have tested positive for rabies — 94 of them were bats. The most common carriers of rabies are bats, foxes, and skunks in Utah. Outside of Utah, raccoons and coyotes have been documented with the disease, as well.

“On Labor Day, a pet dog in St. George was exposed to a wild fox, and we responded and captured the fox,” says DWR Wildlife Biologist Melinda Bennion. “The fox later tested positive for rabies. And in another recent incident in St. George, a cat brought a bat into a house, and the bat also tested positive for rabies.”

What are some signs and symptoms you should look for to determine whether an animal has rabies?

Officials say, although some animals with rabies often look and act normal, most develop one of two forms of the disease.

“One form is ‘furious rabies’ in which the infected animal is easily excited or angered,” says Hannah Rettler, Utah Department of Health Disease Epidemiologist. “The other is ‘dumb rabies’ in which the infected animal becomes paralyzed. However, the only way to know for certain if an animal has rabies or another disease is to humanely euthanize the animal and have it tested.”

Some physical signs a rabid animal may exhibit include unusual behavior such as animals that are usually nocturnal are active during the day or animals that usually fly may be on the ground. Rabid animals may also display signs of irritability, restlessness, and nervousness.

What should you do if you or your pet has had contact with a rabid animal?

Officials say you should immediately contact local animal control or the nearest DWR office so officials can capture the animal for testing. If it’s the weekend, call the non-emergency number for your local police dispatch, who will route the report to on-call DWR staff. You should also report the incident to your local health department.

Those potentially infected should immediately visit the UDOH site to find the nearest location to receive the rabies vaccine (post-exposure prophylaxis).

“Once a person begins to show signs of the disease, there is no effective treatment, and rabies is almost always fatal,” Rettler said. “That is why it is so important to work with your animal control officers, DWR officials and local health departments to determine if you need the rabies shot after an exposure. It is lifesaving treatment and the reason why human cases of rabies have decreased so dramatically in the last 100 years.”

If your pet has not been vaccinated and is bit by a rabid animal, unfortunately, they will have to be euthanized, officials say. For those unwilling to euthanize their pet, the animal will be held in strict isolation in a municipal or county animal shelter or a veterinary medical facility approved by the local health department for at least four months at the owner’s expense, per state code.

If your pet is up-to-date on rabies vaccinations, it will only require a 45-day home quarantine in partnership with local animal control.

“Having to euthanize an unvaccinated pet that was exposed to a rabid animal is one of the most heartbreaking parts of our jobs, so we strongly encourage everyone to keep their pets up to date on their rabies vaccinations,” says Rettler.

To prevent potential dangers to your pet while at home, officials strongly suggest bringing your pet inside at night, locking pet doors to prevent wildlife from sneaking in, and keeping your pet on a leash while hiking or camping.

Keeping these safety tips in mind will ensure your outdoor experience remains safe and trouble-free.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Utah Coronavirus

More Coronavirus Updates

IN FOCUS

More In Focus

Justice Files

More Justice Files