Utahn dies from rabies, exposure to bat believed to be cause of infection

A Utah resident died from rabies earlier this month, Utah public health officials reported. (Photo: SBG)

(KUTV) -- A Utah resident died from rabies in November, the Utah Department of Health (UDOH) reports.

They believe the victim was exposed to a bat, which was the source of the infection.

This is the first Utahn to die from rabies since 1944.

In Utah, most people are likely to get rabies from bats, UDOH reports. 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 gets bit by a bat should contact their local health care provider or health department for advice on how to get treatment to avoid rabies. Rabies is almost always fatal once the symptoms develop. It affects the nervous system. Thus, all potential exposures must be taken seriously, a press release stated.

“If you find yourself near a bat, dead or alive, do not touch, hit, or kill it,” Dallin Peterson, epidemiologist with UDOH said in a press release. "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 (DWR) for more information. Peterson adds, “Call your health care provider or local public health department immediately to report the possible exposure and determine whether preventive treatment is necessary.”

Nearly 40,000 people nationwide get rabies prevention treatment called post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) after they get a bit or scratch from a domestic animal, such as dogs or cats, with unknown vaccination histories. It's important to note that not all animal exposures require PEP.

Utah law requires all domestic dogs, cats and ferrets receive a rabies vaccine.

UDOH has a list of guidelines to help people avoid getting infected with rabies.

  • NEVER TOUCH A BAT. Keep bats out of your home. Seal any cracks and gaps where bats can enter.
  • Get your pets vaccinations.
  • 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.