Utah confirms first rabid bat of the season

(Salt Lake City, UT)—Utah public health officials have confirmed a bat found earlier this month has tested positive for rabies. This is a reminder to every Utah resident to avoid contact with bats and other wildlife they may encounter. In Utah, bats are the primary carrier of the rabies virus, but you can get rabies from any infected animal. 

\Rabies affects the nervous system of humans and animals. A person may get rabies through a bite, scratch, or saliva from an infected animal. Keep in mind that a bat’s teeth and claws are very small, so a bat bite or scratch may not leave a mark or even be felt by the injured person. Because of this, a person who has been around bats may not always be aware of an exposure and should be considered at risk. Rabies is almost always fatal once symptoms develop, so all potential exposures must be taken seriously. 

Even though only a small number of bats actually carry rabies, it is important to take the proper steps to avoid contact with a bat. If you find yourself near a bat, dead or alive, do not touch, hit, or destroy it and do not try and remove it from your home yourself. Call your local animal control office to collect the bat and call your local public health department immediately to determine if testing the bat for rabies is necessary. Rabies preventive treatment, known as post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP), is potentially life-saving and may also be necessary. Your local public health department or healthcare provider can help determine if PEP is needed after a potential exposure.

Signs of rabies in animals can include obvious changes in normal behavior, such as aggression, foaming at the mouth, no interest in food or water, staggering, or paralysis. You cannot tell if an animal is rabid just by looking at it, so be sure to report if a human or pet has direct contact with an unfamiliar animal. Only a laboratory test (after an animal’s death) can determine if an animal has rabies. It is also important that pets are up to date on vaccines in case they come into contact with a wild animal that has rabies. State law requires pet dogs, cats, and ferrets to be immunized against rabies.

Never handle a wild animal with bare hands. And, follow these steps to help reduce your risk for getting rabies.

  • Make sure your pets are up to date on their rabies vaccinations
  • 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.
  • Stay away from wild animals. If you have children, make sure they understand not to approach or pick up wildlife. 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 get into 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 a travel clinic whether you should receive the rabies vaccine.
  • Take action if you are bitten or scratched. If you are bitten or scratched by any animal (domestic or wild), immediately wash the wound with soap and water and see a healthcare provider. Contact animal control to help capture the animal for observation or rabies testing. You can also use this online tool to determine what you should do after a potential exposure.

For more information on rabies, visit https://epi.health.utah.gov/rabies.