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Minnesota woman being treated after handling rabid bat

A cluster of little brown bats hangs on the rock walls of level 12 of the Soudan Underground Mine State Park in Minnesota. The bats discolor the area around the rocks that they use. Clint Austin / Forum News Service file photo

ST PAUL—A woman who handled a rabid bat near the Como Lakeside Pavilion in St. Paul on Wednesday, May 30, has been found by authorities and is receiving medical attention, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.

The department began looking for her after another person found the sickly bat on the Lake Como pedestrian path and took it to the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Roseville. When the finder dropped the bat off, the person mentioned that it had been handled by another woman at the park.

The center sent the bat to the state health department, where a lab test confirmed that it had rabies.

Rabies is a virus that is usually spread by the bite or scratch of an infected animal. By the time symptoms appear, it is generally too late to treat the life-threatening disease.

To find the other person who had handled the bat, the health department put up signs around Como Park that read, "Please read! Rabid bat found near here." It went on to say that the person who found the bat reported seeing a young Asian woman pick it up and warned that anyone else who may have touched the bat needed to call immediately and seek treatment.

Park goers took pictures of the sign and posted it on social media.

Just as the health department was preparing a press release to cast a wider net to find her, the woman called them, said Michael Schommer, a spokesman for the department.

"If someone has been bitten or exposed to a bat, it is very important to test the bat for rabies," said Dr. Joni Scheftel, state public health veterinarian. "If this is not possible, rabies prevention shots should be given as soon as possible."

Rabies used to be known as hydrophobia because it appears to cause a fear of water. Intense spasms in the throat are triggered when trying to swallow. This, and the impact of the virus on the nervous system, can cause the victim to froth at the mouth.

The virus can incubate in a human or animal host for several weeks. Once symptoms occur — such as headache, nausea and confusion — coma and death usually aren't far behind.

In the United States, between one and three people contract rabies each year, but 40,000 receive a rabies prevention treatment called post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) because they had contact with a potentially rabid animal, according to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Bats are the most common carrier of the virus in Minnesota.