A bat in Salt Lake City tested positive for rabies this week, marking the first confirmed case that Salt Lake County health officials have recorded this year.
Salt Lake County averages around four rabies-positive bats every year, said Nicholas Rupp, Salt Lake County Health Department spokesperson. But they typically start to show up later in the summer and fall, making this an earlier find than usual.
Rabies can make bats act strange, Rupp said. Diseased bats will spend more time on the ground and in more densely populated areas, and they may appear weak and unable to fly.
“Bats don’t want to be near humans,” he said. “A bat that allows you to approach it, that’s a sign the bat isn’t well.”
The health department warned residents to avoid bats, whether they look like they have rabies or not. Utah law protects all bat species, making it illegal to harm any bat in the state.
Pets should also be vaccinated against rabies, Rupp said. They are more likely than humans to come into contact with wildlife, making them more vulnerable.
“They pick up an unwell bat in their mouth because it was laying on the ground, or they have an altercation with a raccoon or something like that,” Rupp said. “That potential is so much greater for our domestic animals.”
State law requires dogs, cats and ferrets to be immunized against rabies.
If you come into contact with a bat or if a bat has been living inside of your home, the Salt Lake County Health Department recommends getting evaluated for rabies as soon as possible. However, bats roosting on the outside of a home require no action.
If a bat is in an attic where people aren’t living, there isn’t a need to contact the health department, Rupp said. Instead, call a permitted nuisance control company and find out whether it can remove the bat.
Bats are important to Utah’s ecosystem, Rupp said. May and June are when they start to wean their pups, making young bats especially vulnerable now as they leave their mothers. The best thing people can do at the moment is leave them alone, he said.
“We don’t want people taking their concerns out on bats,” he said. “That is not appropriate. They really are a wonderful species for our environment.”
Rabies is transmitted by saliva, commonly through a bite. Symptoms in humans include insomnia, anxiety, confusion, hallucinations, increase in saliva, difficulty swallowing and fear of water. Once symptoms start to show, rabies is “nearly always fatal,” according to the county health department.
Any mammal can contract rabies. The more common carriers are bats, raccoons, skunks and foxes.