3 bats infected with rabies, humans and dogs exposed to the disease in Utah

Utah health officials Thursday confirmed three cases of rabies in bats that have exposed humans and/or dogs to the disease. (Bernd Wolter, Shutterstock)

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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah health officials on Thursday confirmed three cases of rabies in bats that have exposed humans and dogs to the disease.

“The people were given preventive vaccines and the dogs were given boosters and a 45-day home quarantine for being up to date on their rabies vaccinations,” the Department of Health and Human Services said in a statement.

The bats were found in Washington, Salt Lake County and Weber counties, according to Hannah Rettler, an epidemiologist with the Utah Department of Health and Human Services.

“The location doesn’t really matter,” said spokeswoman Charla Haley. “There’s a risk when you’re around wild animals, regardless of location.”

Health officials noted that a bite or scratch from an infected mammal can transmit rabies. Exposure via bats is the leading cause of human death from rabies in Utah. According to the statement, an average of about 15 rabid animals are reported each year, according to the state.

Five people in the US died of rabies in 2021, the ministry said.

If an unvaccinated pet is exposed to rabies, officials said they must either be kept in professional isolation for four months or be euthanized.

“Keeping your pet up to date on his rabies vaccines is the most important and affordable way to protect you and your pet from rabies,” the department said.

The bat’s teeth and claws are so small that a bite or scratch “might not be seen or even felt by the injured person,” the statement said. Symptoms of rabies may not appear until weeks to months after exposure. All exposures must be reported, officials said.

Symptoms of rabies begin similar to the flu, then include anxiety, confusion, abnormal behavior, and delirium. Officials noted that once those symptoms start, the disease is usually fatal in people.

“If you’re near a bat, dead or alive, don’t touch it, hit it, or destroy it, and don’t try to remove it yourself,” Rettler said.

Those who find a bat should contact their local animal control office or the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources to collect the animal for rabies testing.

Symptoms of rabies in pets include changes in normal behavior, aggression, seizures for no reason, foaming at the mouth, lack of interest in food or water, staggering or paralysis.

“Infected wildlife may also be unusually tame or unafraid of humans. Infected bats may fly around during the day, rest on the ground or show no noticeable signs at all,” officials said.

More information on how to protect yourself and your pets from rabies can be found at epi.health.utah.gov/rabies.

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Ashley Imlay covers state politics and breaking news for KSL.com. Ashley, a lifelong Utahn, has also worked as a reporter for the Deseret News and is a graduate of Dixie State University.

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