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First Positive Rabies Case Of 2021 Confirmed in Utah Bat

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – A bat found in the backyard of a Salt Lake County home tested positive for rabies, marking the first confirmed case of the virus in a bat so far this year, according to state health officials.

“The bat was found dead,” said Hannah Rettler, an epidemiologist with the Utah Department of Health. “There was questionable exposure to a pet.”

Rettler said the family did the right thing by contacting UDOH, which tested the bat.

“Any exposure, even if an animal has the rabies vaccine, needs to be discussed with public health to decide what next steps are needed,” Rettler said.

The next steps could include that a person receives rabies post-exposure prophylaxis. To prevent rabies infection, the treatment should begin as soon as possible after exposure and before symptoms develop, UDOH said. 

“We did have a very sad case in 2018 of an individual who passed away from rabies,” Rettler said. “It was an exposure to a bat.”

That death of a Utah man was the first human death from rabies in the state since 1944. 

In Utah, bats are the main carrier of rabies. Because bats have small teeth and claws, a person may not realize they’ve been bitten or scratched.

“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,” Rettler said in a news release.

Humans may not show symptoms for several weeks or months after being exposed, the health department said. Flu-like symptoms then worsen to confusion, abnormal behavior, and delirium.

“Rabies is something that does not have treatment,” Rettler told KSL TV. “It is nearly 100% fatal in humans.”

Anyone who sees an animal showing signs of rabies or thinks a pet or person experienced possible exposure should call 1-888-EPI-UTAH (374-8824).

“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,” said the news release from the health department. “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.”

The health department also reminded to always use caution around wild animals since you cannot tell if an animal is infected with rabies just by observing it.

“The number one way that you can protect yourself and protect your family if you have pets is keeping them up to date on their rabies vaccines,” Rettler said.

UDOH provided these additional guidelines that can help reduce the risk of 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 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 health care 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, visit http://health.utah.gov/epi/diseases/rabies/.

KSL 5 TV Live

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