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Wyoming woman dies of rabies after being bitten by bat

RIVERTON, Wyo. -- Officials say a Fremont County woman who was believed to be Wyoming's first confirmed human rabies case has died.

The Daily Ranger reports that the 77-year-old Lander resident, who has not yet been identified, contracted the disease Aug. 21 after being bit by a bat. She began showing symptoms weeks later and was treated at a Lander hospital. She was recently transferred to a Salt Lake City-area hospital, where officials say she died Saturday.

Public health officials are tracking down people who have had contact with the woman to determine whether anyone else is at risk of contracting the disease. They have administered vaccinations as a precaution to two of the woman's relatives and a Utah hospital worker.

Symptoms of rabies often include weakness, paralysis or behavioral changes. A state health officials says there are only one or two human cases in the United States each year.

"While rabies is often found in Wyoming animals such as bats and skunks, this is the first confirmed human rabies case ever recorded in our state," Dr. Karl Musgrave, the state public health veterinarian, said in a statement last week. "Across the United States, there are usually only one or two human cases in a year."

If a person isn't treated quickly, the first symptoms of rabies may resemble the flu, along with pain or a prickling or itching sensation at the site of the bite, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Within days, the illness progresses to include anxiety, confusion, agitation, delirium, hallucinations, insomnia and abnormal behavior.

By the time such symptoms appear, the disease is nearly always fatal. There have been only about 10 documented cases of people surviving clinical rabies.

Officials warn that people should keep a safe distance from wildlife like bats and skunks to avoid exposure to rabies. They also urged the public not to "adopt" wild animals or try to nurse sick or injured animals -- call animal control for help.

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