ST. GEORGE – A Washington County resident’s exposure to a rabies-infected bat has area health officials reminding the public to take precautions if they run into an animal that might be rabid.
The individual is being treated with a preventative vaccine, the Southwest Utah Public Health Department said in a statement Monday.
“This isn’t unusual,” David Heaton, a spokesman for the Health Department, said Tuesday. “This is the time of year when people are outdoors more, and 90 percent of the suspected rabies exposure cases in the county come from bats.”
What makes this case different is that the bat involved was confirmed by health officials to be infected, rather than just suspected. Regardless, if you think you have run into a rabid animal, it is best to seek treatment as soon as possible.
“Rabies vaccine is very effective when given soon enough.” David Blodgett, the department’s health officer, said. “Every year, dozens of people in our district are vaccinated after actual or suspected exposure to rabid animals. Once a person shows symptoms, the disease is nearly always fatal.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
The rabies virus infects the central nervous system, ultimately causing disease in the brain and death. The early symptoms of rabies in people are similar to those of many other illnesses, including fever, headache and general weakness or discomfort. As the disease progresses, more specific symptoms appear and may include insomnia, anxiety, confusion, slight or partial paralysis, excitation, hallucinations, agitation, increase in saliva, difficulty swallowing and fear of water. Death usually occurs within days of the onset of symptoms.
The virus is spread though the saliva of infected animals.
While the majority of suspected rabies cases in the county have come from bats, other animals that can be infected include coyotes, foxes, raccoons and skunks. Domesticated cats and dogs can also get infected, though these cases aren’t as common due to vaccinations.
Animals usually become rabid from the bite of an infected bat, the Health Department said.
Human cases of rabies in the United States are rare, with only one to three cases reported annually. Some of those were infected outside of the country.
Confirmed cases of rabid bats were reported in Grand Canyon National Park in 2014.
How to recognize if an animal is rabid
Although some animals with rabies look and act normal, most develop one of two forms of the disease: “Furious rabies,” in which the infected animal is easily excited or angered, and “dumb rabies,” in which the infected animal becomes paralyzed. Usually animals infected with rabies become irritable, restless and nervous.
The only way to tell if an animal has rabies is to kill it in a humane manner and test its brain for the virus.
“Do not kill the animal with a blow or a shot to the head, as this may make it difficult to perform laboratory tests on the brain to determine whether the animal has rabies,” Blodgett wrote in a 2017 article on rabies. “If the animal is dead, put it on ice or in a refrigerator to preserve it for testing. Heat and freezing can make the test unreadable.”
Tips for avoiding infection
Back off and don’t touch any wild animal that lets you get close to it or seems sick. Parents are advised to keep an eye on their children when outdoors so they don’t get too curious and too close to a potentially rabid animal.
Seek immediate medical care if you’ve been bitten by any animal. If the animal can be contained or captured without further injury to yourself or others, do so. It can then be tested for rabies to determine if you should receive rabies shots.
Read more: Bats! Rabies! Shots! Oh My!
Seek immediate medical attention if you may have been exposed to an animal suspected of having rabies, even if you’re unsure you were bitten. If you have physical contact with a bat or awaken to find a bat in the room, assume you’ve been bitten.
Consultation with a doctor and the Health Department can determine if vaccinations are a good idea based on the circumstances of your situation.
Vaccinate your pets against rabies.
Get more information on the Southwest Utah Public Health Department’s website.
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