A Grand Teton National Park visitor has been treated for rabies after being bitten by a bat that later tested positive for the disease that’s fatal if not treated.
The incident occurred last week when the visitor, who was part of an organized group, was hanging out near Jenny Lake. The bat fell from a tree onto the visitor’s shoulder, and when the visitor tried to brush it off, it bit the person’s hand.
The leader of the group captured the bat in a plastic bag and contacted park rangers, which health and park officials say was precisely the correct thing to do.
Later, after tests at the Wyoming State Veterinary Laboratory showed the bat had rabies, the visitor was contacted and immediately began treatment, according to a park press release.
The type of bat responsible for the bite hasn’t been confirmed, but it’s believed to be a long-eared myotis, said park spokeswoman Denise Germann.
There are at least 12 bat species in Teton park, and generally they are doing good things like eating insects and, in some cases, pollinating plants.
Typically less than 1% of bats have rabies.
“To date this calendar year, there have been a total of five bats that have tested positive for rabies in Wyoming,” the press release said.
Though the incidence of rabies is low, the risk is serious, and it’s important for anyone who has potentially been exposed to seek treatment immediately.
“The rabies virus infects the central nervous system,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“If a person does not receive the appropriate medical care after a potential rabies exposure, the virus can cause disease in the brain, ultimately resulting in death,” the CDC said.
People can come into contact with bats in natural settings like the park, but also in developed areas, like in or around older log buildings.
After exposure to rabies there is an incubation period of weeks or even months before symptoms appear, according to the CDC. The first symptoms may seem like the flu, with weakness, fever, and possibly a prickling or itching sensation at the site of the bite. Within days, as the disease progresses, the individual will show signs of cerebral dysfunction, anxiety, confusion and agitation.
“As the disease progresses, the person may experience delirium, abnormal behavior, hallucinations, hydrophobia [fear of water] and insomnia,” the CDC said. “The acute period of disease typically ends after two to 10 days. Once clinical signs of rabies appear, the disease is nearly always fatal, and treatment is typically supportive.”
“To limit human encounters with bats, close outside doors at all times, especially around dawn and dusk, and windows should have screens without holes,” the CDC said.