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Arches National Park rangers issue safety reminder after bat tests positive for rabies

Aug 25, 2023, 11:31 AM

FILE: A unique species of bat, the Hoary Bat, is pictured in a biologist's hands during a survey. (...

FILE: A unique species of bat, the Hoary Bat, is pictured in a biologist's hands during a survey. (Utah Division of Wildlife Resources)

(Utah Division of Wildlife Resources)

MOAB, Utah — Arches National Park staff are urging visitors to be careful around bats in the park after one recently tested positive for rabies, while visitors also reported some “unusual bat behavior” over the past few weeks.

Park officials said Thursday that the bat that tested positive for rabies was found outside of the park visitors center on Aug. 18. They add that one visitor reported being bit among other bats exhibiting strange behavior.

“Bats are essential to humans and our ecosystem and should be treated with respect and viewed from a distance,” park officials wrote in a social media post. “To minimize potential rabies exposure from bats or other animals, never handle sick or injured wildlife, and report unusual behavior and encounters to park staff immediately.”

Fewer than 1% of bats carry rabies, but bats that act “strangely” or contact humans in any way are about 10 times more likely to carry the disease, officials said. Any bites, scratches or other physical contact — even small — is considered a potential exposure because rabies can be spread through saliva or or mucus membrane contact.

Any visitor who has physical contact with a bat should seek medical attention as soon as possible to treat any possible transfer of the virus. Any encounter should also be reported to the National Park Service Office of Public Health.

Anyone potentially exposed to rabies is given a series of shots to prevent contracting the virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The agency notes, however, about one or two fatal human rabies cases are reported in the U.S. every year from people who contract the virus. It adds this is down from more than 100 annually in the early 1900s because of advancements in public health surveillance, testing and vaccines over the past several decades.

Utah is home to at least 18 bat species, per the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. State wildlife biologists say encounters with these creatures tend to spike between late August through October because of migratory patterns tied to five of those species.

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Arches National Park rangers issue safety reminder after bat tests positive for rabies