Two local residents contracted rabies after both were bit by a rabid bat last week.
The incident prompted Nye County Emergency Services Director Vance Payne to issue a reminder to the community that touching or handling any wild animal is a bad idea.
The residents were trying to nurse the bat back to health after finding it in a docile and sluggish condition on their property.
“The bat was found right smack dab in the middle of the Pahrump Valley at a residence,” Payne said. “The bat was not acting right and the people made a call and animal control snatched it up. Any time an animal is not acting right we will monitor them or we will send them to University of Nevada at Reno for testing. The bat was very calm and very slow and sluggish and typically bats don’t act that way.”
The condition of the two victims is not known.
Payne also used the occurrence to call attention to the importance of rabies vaccinations for all of their respective pets or livestock.
He noted that while most wild animals do not want to be touched by humans, a wild animal acting subdued or relaxed around people should be a cause for concern.
“It’s just like any other community in America where it comes up from time to time,” he said. “It occurs naturally in nature which is why we vaccinate our domesticated animals. Any domestic animal, be it a cat or dog, when they get out in the yard and they see a slow-moving bat, they are going to pounce on it and that’s where you run into very serious problems sometimes.”
Local Veterinarian Dr. Suzanne Zervantian of All Creatures Animal Hospital in Pahrump said the rabies virus affects all warm-blooded animals, as some are more susceptible than others.
She noted the virus is classified as a zoonotic disease that affects the central nervous system, ultimately causing disease in the brain and death.
Early symptoms of rabies in people are similar to other illnesses, including fever, headache, and general weakness or discomfort.
“Zoonotic means that it is transmitted to humans from animals,” she said. “Rabies is a virus that causes inflammation of the brain and it is usually transmitted by a bite wound from an infected animal.”
As the disease progresses, more specific symptoms will appear including insomnia, anxiety, confusion, slight or partial paralysis, excitation, and hallucinations.
Zervantian said there is no cure for the disease.
“At present there is no cure for rabies and it is fatal to animals as well as humans,” she said. “It is considered universally fatal but there have been some survivors. Once a human being or animal has shown clinical signs of rabies there is no survival.”
Zervantian also said treatment for the vaccine has changed over the years.
“They are no longer given in the stomach and that was over 30 years ago,” she said. “The post-exposure treatment is a series of shots for people that have been exposed to a suspected or unknown rabid animal. It is also very painful.”
Without wanting to create unnecessary sensationalism about the event, Zervantian noted that there’s a decent chance there may be other infected bats in the valley.
“There probably is,” she said. “With bats, they carry their own strain of rabies, but it is transmitted to other animals. Typically it’s transmitted by a bite wound, but it’s thought that in large colonies of bats, it may be excreted or exhaled and the other bats become infected. Certainly though, if we have one animal testing positive for rabies, there’s more than likely several. Hopefully it is confined to the bat population.”
There are two forms of rabies that animals develop, Zervantian said.
“One form is the ‘furious rabies’ where the infected animal is easily excited or angered, while the other form is ‘dumb rabies,’ where the infected animal becomes paralyzed and has difficulties moving around. Infected animals and people show both signs.”
One symptom of the virus widely known is the foaming of the mouth.
“What’s associated with the foaming of the mouth is the cranial nerves have been affected, so it often affects swallowing and they may salivate profusely, and it’s very painful to drink anything,” she said. The other signs may be disorientation and lack of coordination.”
Zervantian also noted that once an animal begins to show acute symptoms of the virus, it’s too late.
“The best thing to do is prevention through vaccinations and that’s not a suggestion, it’s the law,” she said. “That is what has reduced the number of rabies worldwide in dog and cat populations, and therefore in humans.”
Payne, meanwhile, expanded on Zervantian’s urging to keep domesticated pets vaccinated.
He also said numerous local and state agencies routinely test for rabies in wild animals.
“Just about all local government agencies with an animal control department does monitor for this kind of issue,” he said. “There’s a direct telephone line that we use in Carson City for testing. There are times when it’s difficult to tell if an animal is rabid unless it is tested. Generally speaking, an animal that is acting oddly should be tested for the rabies virus.”
For additional information or advice on suspected rabid animals, call the animal control office at (775) 751-6315.
For information on whether treatment is recommended for humans, call the Office of Epidemiology at (775) 684-5911.