ST. GEORGE — The Southwest Utah Public Health Department is urging people to beware of bats after several tested positive for rabies in the area.
Rabies is a deadly virus that attacks the carrier’s nervous system and is nearly always fatal to humans. The U.S. has several animals that can spread rabies to humans through their saliva. Coyotes, foxes, raccoons and bats are just a few.
According to a press release by SWUPHD, several people in Southern Utah were recently treated with preventative vaccines after coming into contact with rabies-positive bats.
Animals, including humans, can be exposed to rabies in two ways: bite and non-bite. If bitten by an animal with rabies, the saliva from the bite can infect the person or animal that is bitten, but rabies can also be contracted by coming into contact with saliva, brain tissue or spinal fluid through a scratch or the eyes and mouth.
Although domesticated cats and dogs are susceptible to the deadly virus, vaccinations have significantly decreased the number of cases. Vaccinating pets against rabies can also limit human exposure.
In Southern Utah, most cases of rabies have been identified in bats or in animals that have been bitten by bats. Human cases are rare in the U.S. According to SWUPHD, only one to three cases of rabies in humans are reported annually. According to the CDC, 23 cases of human rabies have been reported in the United States from 2008-2017.
When initially infected, a person might show similar symptoms to the flu, including a fever and headache that can last several days. As the virus progresses, the symptoms may become more severe. People infected might find themselves confused and hyperactive and may experience difficulty swallowing, hallucinations and partial paralysis.
There are a number of tests to diagnose a person with rabies. Samples of saliva, serum, spinal fluid and skin biopsies of hair follicles at the nape of the neck are taken to be tested. Once diagnosed, treatment is individualized to how the person was exposed and the animal involved. Post-exposure prophylaxis is a vaccination option used to treat some rabies-positive humans.
Early diagnosis is about two to 10 days after infection. For many, once the more severe symptoms are present, the virus is nearly always fatal.
To avoid coming into contact with a rabies-positive animal, the SWUPHD encourages people to avoid touching and getting close to agitated animals. If bitten, seek medical attention immediately. Officials also advise people to attempt to contain the animal that bit them so it can be tested but only if it is safe to do so.
SWUPHD said it is best for people to assume they have been bitten and seek medical attention if they come into physical contact or find a bat in their room after they have been asleep.
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