COLUMBIA — State health officials say a middle-aged Sumter County woman has become the first human to contract rabies in South Carolina in more than 50 years.

The Department of Health and Environmental Control said Friday that doctors think the woman was bitten by a rabid bat a few months ago in her home.

Dr. Eric Brenner with DHEC says the disease travels slowly, taking weeks to reach the brain and nervous system. Brenner says once there, the symptoms like headaches and seizures begin and the infection is almost always fatal.

Federal health officials say getting treatment before symptoms show up almost always prevents the disease.

DHEC says federal health privacy laws will not allow it to release any other information on the woman, including whether she is alive.