(Salt Lake City, UT) – Utah public health officials are asking everyone to remember that bats are particularly active this time of year, which means the possibility of exposure to rabies is increasing. To date, 70 bats have been tested this year and seven tested positive. In Utah, bats are the primary carrier of the rabies virus.
Rabies affects the nervous system of humans and animals. A person may contract rabies through a bite, scratch, or saliva from the infected animal. Unfortunately, because a bat’s teeth and claws are so small, a bat bite or scratch may not be seen or even felt by the injured person. However, since rabies is considered 100% fatal once symptoms develop, all potential exposures must be taken seriously.
“If you find yourself near a bat, dead or alive, do not touch, hit, or destroy it and do not try to remove it from your home,” said Dallin Peterson, epidemiologist with the Utah Department of Health (UDOH). “Call your local animal control office to collect the bat and call your health care provider or local public health department immediately to report the possible exposure and determine whether preventive treatment is necessary.”
Every year, it is estimated that 40,000 people receive a rabies prevention treatment called post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) due to a potential exposure to rabies. Not all animal exposures will require PEP. Unfortunately, most people are given PEP due to close contact with domestic animals, such as cats or dogs. Knowing how to prevent rabies can reduce your risks and save pets from unnecessary grief.
The Utah Department of Health and local health departments urge all Utahns to avoid the heartache of unnecessarily euthanizing pets and undergoing rabies treatment by ensuring their pets’ rabies vaccines are up-to-date. Utah law requires all domestic dogs, cats and ferrets receive the rabies vaccine. Pet owners are encouraged to check with their veterinarian for information on rabies vaccine.
In addition to vaccinating your pets, following these guidelines can help reduce your risk for getting rabies.
• Keep your pets confined. 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.
• Keep bats out of your home. Seal any cracks and gaps where bats can enter 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. 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.
• 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. Contact animal control if you are bitten by an animal, to assist in capturing the animal for observation or rabies testing.
In domestic animals, signs of rabies include:
• behavior changes
• general sickness
• trouble swallowing
• an increase in drool or saliva
• biting at everything, if excited
For more information on rabies, visit http://health.utah.gov/epi/diseases/rabies/.