Jackson, WY. – Public health officials are evaluating a group of 13 college students who were treated for rabies as a precaution. The students were exposed to wild bats while spending the night in a building at a ranch in Grand Teton National Park.
The group, consisted of mostly college students participating in a program from Utah State University, Wyoming, and Washington, D.C. They were visiting the University of Wyoming-National Park Service Research Center at the ranch.
Public health officials say the treatment was a precautionary measure, and the there was no indication that anyone was bitten.
The exposure is being taken seriously because bats are common carriers of rabies in Wyoming, and because rabies is nearly universally fatal and there is no effective treatment once symptoms begin to surface.
“Seeing a bat flying around at night is not what we are worried about,” said Alexia Harris, a state epidemiologist and state health officer. “We’re looking for anyone who could have potentially had a bat bite they were aware or not aware of. Bats’ teeth are extremely small, and you can be bitten without a visible sign of a wound.”
The treating facility temporarily ran out of the vaccine needed to treat rabies, but has ordered additional doses to make sure that anyone involved with this incident could have access within a reasonable timeframe.
Rabies can infect any mammal and affects the central nervous system, causing paralysis and ultimately death. It starts with general symptoms, like fever and weakness, then progresses to include symptoms like behavior changes, aggression, agitation and excessive salivation.
You can take steps to protect yourself and your pets:
• Never touch bats.
• Be very suspicious of bat activity during daylight hours.
• If you or your child wakes up in the presence of a bat, discuss the situation with your medical provider. Seemingly insignificant exposures have contributed to several fatal cases of rabies in the past.
• If you have an encounter with a bat, seek medical attention immediately. Save the bat in a container and contact your local district health department immediately for testing options. NEVER handle a bat with your bare hands—use gloves, a towel, etc.
• Bat-proof your home or cabin by checking chimneys, roof peaks, loose screening on louvers, dormer windows, or areas where flashing has pulled away from the roof or siding. Bats can enter through holes the size of a quarter. Typically, bat-proofing is best after bats have migrated away in the fall.
• Always vaccinate your pets, including dogs, cats, horses, and ferrets. Pets may encounter bats in the outdoors or in the home. If your dog or cat brings a dead bat home, collect it in a plastic bag without touching it and call your district health department for possible testing. Also, contact your veterinarian to make sure your animal’s rabies vaccinations are up-to-date
For further information about rabies, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website at www.cdc.gov/rabies/.