Health officials warn of rabies

Aedan Hannon with the Casper Star-Tribune, via the Wyoming News Exchange

CASPER — Despite the snow last month, it’s spring in Wyoming. 


With the sunshine and the warmth, comes wildlife. Bears and rattlesnakes top the mind, but animals like skunks and bats are also emerging from their winter stasis. 


The state’s annual enlivening has prompted a rabies warning from the Wyoming Department of Health. Skunks and bats primarily carry the deadly disease in Wyoming, according to the department, and as they and people become more active in spring, the risk of rabies grows. 


So far this year the state has confirmed three cases in skunks in Sheridan County, State Public Health Veterinarian Dr. Emily Curren said in a statement. 


Fourteen cases were reported last year – eight in skunks, four bats and two cows, according to data from the Wyoming State Veterinary Lab. 


Sheridan County is Wyoming’s hotbed for rabies. Almost half of the cases last year occurred in the county. 


Rabies can infect any mammal, including humans, and the disease is usually spread by bites or scratches.


 “Bats are a particular concern in our area. One reason is because bat bites can be very tiny and not always visible,” Curren said. “Anyone with direct contact with a bat or anyone sleeping in the same room where a bat is discovered should be assessed by a doctor or public health provider.” 


In 2015, a 77-year-old woman from Lander died after being bitten by a bat in the middle of the night in the first recorded human case of rabies in Wyoming.


A family member checked for signs of a bite, but could not find any, according to Reuters. 


Only a handful of people contract and die from rabies in the U.S. each year. However, between 30,000 and 60,000 people need to be treated for exposure, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 


Curren said that anyone who is bitten by a rabid animal should wash out the bite with warm water and soap and seek immediate medical attention. 


Bats that come into contact with people should also be captured – if it can be done so safely – so that medical professionals can perform rabies testing, Curren added. 


Treatment for rabies includes a series of shots given immediately after exposure and the continuing over the course of two weeks, according to the CDC.


“When started after exposure and before symptoms develop, this type of treatment is nearly 100 percent effective at preventing rabies,” Curren said. “Unfortunately, rabies is nearly 100 percent fatal if treatment is not started before symptoms develop.” 


The Department of Health gave other tips to prevent rabies exposure this spring and summer, including vaccinating pets and other livestock and avoiding feeding or touching wild or stray animals.


This story was published on May 12, 2023. 


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