Two young girls visiting northern Utah have begun treatment for rabies after being attacked in broad daylight by a bat that later tested positive for the disease.

The Weber-Morgan Health Department reported the attack took place on Saturday as the girls were walking near the town of Liberty. One was bitten on the finger and the other was exposed to the disease while trying to stop the attack.

Officials said relatives were able to safely capture the bat, which later tested positive for rabies. The girls, who are from out of state, are receiving a series of shots to prevent them from contracting the disease.

"Bats are nocturnal, so for this to happen during the daytime is a sure sign that the bat was ill," says Weber-Morgan Health Director Gary House. "The safest and best advice is to avoid all physical contact with bats if possible.

"While this incident appears to be unprovoked, it tells us that we have rabies activity in our area," he said. "Residents need to be cautious of any animals, especially bats, that are acting aggressively."

The rabies virus affects the neurological system is almost always fatal if left untreated. The virus is transmitted when infected saliva is passed on through bites or scratches by infected animals, including skunks, raccoons, foxes and coyotes.

Residents is southern Utah are also are being reminded to stay away from sick or dead animals after two cats in Kane County tested positive for a bacterial infection called tularemia. Better known as rabbit fever, that infection can also be fatal in humans if left untreated.

The Southwest Utah Public Health Department is investigating after state health officials confirmed the infection, which is often spread by deerflies and ticks or by exposure to the blood of infected animals.

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"People can be infected by tularemia, but it cannot be spread from person to person", says Lisa Starr, communicable disease nurse for the department.

Symptoms include flu-like illness such as sudden fever, body aches, and coughing. If the infection is caused by an insect bite or a cut, it usually results in a skin ulcer and swollen glands.

Though only about 200 cases are reported annually in the U.S., 14 people contracted rabbit fever in Utah in July 2007, following a large event held on the west side of Utah Lake in which those infected all participated.

e-mail: carrie@desnews.com