By Laura Zuckerman
(Reuters) - Wyoming has recorded the state's first known fatality from rabies with the death of an elderly woman from Lander who contracted the viral disease in August after being bitten by an infected bat, state health officials said on Wednesday.
The 77-year-old woman, whose name was not disclosed, died last week at a hospital in the Salt Lake City area where she had been taken for treatment of an ailment that testing later showed to be rabies, according to a Fremont County, Wyoming, public health nurse.
Thirteen Wyoming residents, including family members, and a Utah healthcare worker who had contact with the woman are receiving the series of vaccinations recommended for those who may have been exposed to rabies through such transmission sources as saliva or tears, said Wyoming State Public Health Veterinarian Karl Musgrave.
The vaccinations are likely to be recommended for dozens more as public health officials in Wyoming and Utah widen the scope of an investigation that has seen medical workers go door-to-door in the woman's neighborhood and elsewhere seeking those who may be at risk after coming into contact with her, Musgrave said.
On average, rabies kills just one or two people a year in the United States and the rabies fatality in Wyoming was the state's first to be confirmed, he said.
The woman contracted the disease, whose symptoms include delirium, hallucinations and abnormal behavior, from a bat that flew into the family home in the middle of the night on Aug. 21 and brushed against her face and leg, Musgrave said.
A family member carefully checked her for signs of a bite but found none. She fell down on Sept. 18 and was later hospitalized in Fremont County, he said. Her condition progressively worsened and she was transferred to the Utah hospital the last week in September.
Rabies was not suspected in the case, which puzzled doctors, until family members recalled her encounter with the bat, said Musgrave.
The incubation period for rabies varies from weeks to months but it is never too late to start the round of rabies injections, he said.
Rabies in its early stages can cause fever and headache. By the time symptoms like delirium appear, survival is rare, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
(Reporting by Laura Zuckerman; Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Sandra Maler)