Health Department confirms first Utah death from rabies since 1944

Brown bat. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Don Pfritzer

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SALT LAKE CITY, Utah, Nov. 8, 2018 (Gephardt Daily) — A Utah resident has died from rabies for the first time since 1944, Utah public health officials confirmed Thursday.

A news release from the Utah Department of Health Thursday morning said the death occurred earlier this month. It is suspected exposure to a bat was the source of infection.

In order to protect the identity of the deceased resident, no further information about the family will be released, the news release said.

“In Utah, people and animals are most likely to come into contact with rabies through exposure to bats,” the news release said. “Because a bat’s teeth and claws are so small, a bat bite or scratch may not be seen or felt by the injured person. Anyone who is bitten by a bat, has bare skin contact with a bat, or has other potential contact with a bat, such as waking up in a room with a bat, should contact their health care provider or local health department for advice on whether they should receive treatment to prevent rabies.”

Since rabies is nearly always fatal once symptoms develop, all potential exposures must be taken seriously.

Rabies affects the nervous system of humans and animals, the news release goes on. A person may contract rabies through a bite, scratch, or saliva from the infected animal. Due to the presence of virus in some fluids such as saliva, cerebrospinal fluid, tears, and respiratory tract fluids, it is theoretically possible for a person to spread rabies to another person through contact with these body fluids. The only well-documented cases of rabies caused by human-to-human transmission occurred among recipients of transplanted corneas and recipients of solid organs. Rabies is not found in urine, blood, serum, or feces.

“If you find yourself near a bat, dead or alive, do not touch, hit, or kill it,” said Dallin Peterson, epidemiologist with the Utah Department of Health. “Call your health care provider or local public health department immediately to report the possible exposure and determine whether preventive treatment is necessary.”

If you have bats in your home, seek help from a local company to find ways to remove the bats or contact the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources for more information.

Every year, an estimated 40,000 people nationwide receive a rabies prevention treatment called post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) after a bite or scratch from a domestic animal, such as dogs or cats, with unknown vaccination status. Not all animal exposures require PEP.

The UDOH and local health departments urge all Utahns to ensure their pets’ rabies vaccines are up-to-date. Utah law requires all domestic dogs, cats, and ferrets receive a rabies vaccine. Pet owners are encouraged to check with their veterinarian for more information.

In addition to vaccinating your pets, following these guidelines from UDOH can help reduce your risk for getting rabies.

• NEVER TOUCH A BAT. Keep bats out of your home. Seal any cracks and gaps where bats can enter.
• Keep your pets inside and supervise them when outside. This will help keep your pets from coming in contact with wild animals.
• Report stray animals to local authorities. 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 animal control.
• In domestic animals, signs of rabies may include behavior changes, general sickness, trouble swallowing, an increase in drool or saliva, and biting at everything, if excited.
• Consider rabies pre-exposure vaccine if you’re traveling out of the country. If you’re traveling to a country where rabies is common and you’ll be there for an extended period of time, ask your doctor whether you should receive the rabies vaccine before you travel.
• Take action if you are bitten. 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.

For general concerns or questions about bats, contact your local DWR office.


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