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First rabid bat of the season confirmed by health officials

(Photo: Paul Nelson)

SALT LAKE CITY —  The Utah Department of Health confirms they have found the first rabid bat of the season.  And they are reminding Utahns that, though rabies in humans is very rare, people still need to keep their distance from these animals. 

This particular bat was found dead in a family’s back yard in Salt Lake County, showing that bats can be a lot closer to urban areas than people may assume.

“The reason they reached out was potential exposure to a pet,” said epidemiologist Hannah Rettler. 

A rabid bat can bring trouble to pets

Infected pets are their biggest concern since pets can interact with other potentially infected animals like raccoons, foxes, or skunks. Even if a dog or cat has been vaccinated against rabies, Rettler said every exposed animal will have to be quarantined and observed for a period of time.  If a pet hasn’t had its rabies shots, the quarantine will last a lot longer.

(File photo)

For animals that have never been vaccinated, a four-month isolation is going to be required.  So, this is something that can be totally devastating for the family and really hard for the pet,” Rettler says.

If a human is infected by a rabid bat, they likely wouldn’t know it for a few weeks, if not months.  Rettler said a bat’s teeth and claws are so small, a person might not even feel the bite or scratch that infects them. That’s why people need to report any exposure to bats as soon as possible. 

“There’s no treatment once symptoms develop and once you have rabies in your system.  So, the post-exposure prophylaxis is preventing rabies from developing,” he said.

Symptoms of rabies

Early symptoms may present like the flu, but Rettler said they’ll progress to anxiety, confusion, abnormal behavior and delirium.  She said if someone waits until they feel symptoms, it’s already too late. 

“It (rabies) is nearly 100% fatal in humans,” said Rettler.

Officials say it’s impossible for someone to tell if an animal is rabid just by looking.  However, some signs include animals becoming more aggressive, foaming at the mouth and having no interest in food or water.  Rabid bats have been known to fly during the day and to rest on the ground.