A woman has tested positive for rabies after being bitten by a bat that was fighting with a cat in Lethbridge, according to Alberta Health Services.

Medical health officer Dr. Vivien Suttorp says it's rare for animals to carry the disease. She says the woman has been given an anti-rabies vaccine.

"The bat was transferred to public health and then to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency laboratory here in Lethbridge," said Suttorp.

"This is in fact the first bat in many, many years that was actually positive for rabies here in the Lethbridge area."

Suttorp says people are advised to immunize their pets and stay away from wild animals. Wild mammals — such as bats, coyotes, raccoons and skunks — may carry the disease.

"Don't handle any wild animal, including dead animals," she said. "If there is any entrances to your homes, such as open windows without screens, try to close those off to prevent any animals, especially bats, from entering your home."

Health officials say if bitten or scratched by a stray or wild animal, wash the wound thoroughly with soap and water, and contact your local public health office or Health Link.

Rabies is a viral disease that attacks the central nervous system of warm-blooded animals, including humans. Once symptoms appear, rabies is almost always fatal.