A Utahn who died from a rabies infection earlier this month was the first person to die from the virus in the state since 1944, public health officials confirmed today.
State health officials said the unidentified resident likely caught rabies from contact with a bat. Bats migrate through Utah this time of year and some look for places to hibernate. Officials said there were bats in the deceased individual’s home.
Only about 1 percent of all bats actually have rabies, said Dallin Peterson, an epidemiologist with the Utah Department of Health who is investigating the case. If a bat comes in contact with a human that’s a sign the animal in unhealthy, he said.
“They have really great sonar. They’re able to catch insects and so if they come in contact with a human, or they’re on the ground, most likely there’s something wrong with it,” Peterson said.
Rabies is passed through the saliva of an infected animal, often from a bite or scratch. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the virus affects the central nervous system by traveling within nerves and eventually causes inflammation of the brain.
There are pre- and post-exposure vaccines for people and pets who become infected.
Peterson said rabies is a “slow-moving disease.” Once infected, a person has around 10-14 days to get the vaccine before critical signs of the disease appear.