SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah resident has died from rabies, the first time anyone in the state has died from rabies since 1944. The Department of Health says the victim died earlier this month and that the death is the first its kind in the state in over seven decades. State officials believe exposure to a bat was the source of infection. According to multiple media reports, the victim is identified as 55 year-old Gary Giles, a resident of Sanpete County.
The health department says bats are the most likely source of exposure to rabies for Utah residents, and officials say people who should not touch, hit or kill bats.
Rabies is nearly always fatal once symptoms develop, so the Utah Department of Health warns residents that if they come into contact with bats (including bare skin contact or even waking up in a room with a bat) that they should contact their health care provider or local health department for advice on whether they should receive treatment.
“If you find yourself near a bat, dead or alive, do not touch, hit, or kill it,” said Dallin Peterson, epidemiologist with the Utah Department of Health in a statement. The health department recommends that if you have bats in your home, reach out to professionals to have them removed or reach out to the Division of Wildlife Resources to find ways to have the bats removed.
In addition to vaccinating pets (Utah law requires all domestic dogs, cats and ferrets receive a rabies vaccine), following these guidelines can help reduce your risk for getting rabies:
• NEVER TOUCH A BAT. Keep bats out of your home. Seal any cracks and gaps where bats can enter.
• 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.
• In domestic animals, signs of rabies may include behavior changes, general sickness, trouble swallowing, an increase in drool or saliva, and biting at everything, if excited.
• Consider rabies pre-exposure vaccine if you’re traveling out of the country. 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 before you travel.
• 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.
For general concerns or questions about bats, contact your local DWR office. The following resources are available:
• List of regional DWR offices
• Information about bats and keeping them out of your home
• List of wildlife nuisance control experts