News Releases > Health officials warn of rabies risk from bat encounters - Bats should be safely captured and tested whenever possible
ALLEN COUNTY, Ind. (September 23, 2008) – If public health officials have bats on the brain, it’s not just because Halloween is around the corner.
Of all animals, bats pose the greatest risk of rabies transmission to Hoosiers and this is a likely time of year for encounters with the winged creatures. Public health officials hope to reduce demand for the rabies vaccine by reminding residents to avoid any possible contact with bats and other wildlife this fall.
“When these encounters occur, the person should seek immediate medical attention and the bat should be captured and preserved for testing,” says David Fiess, director of Vector Control and Environmental Services for the Fort Wayne-Allen County Department of Health. “Allowing the bat to escape eliminates any chance of testing it for rabies.”
Bats are hardly the winged menace people make them out to be, and in fact, bats play an important role in the ecosystem by eating nuisance insects and disease vectors such as the mosquitoes that transmit West Nile virus. But a small percentage of bats also carry the rabies virus. A bat that is active during the day, is unable to fly, or is found in a place where bats are not usually seen -- such as a room in your home -- is more likely to be rabid.
The rabies virus is usually transmitted to humans through a bite from an infected animal. Because rabies is virtually always fatal once symptoms occur, persons exposed to bats are usually given the rabies vaccine as a precaution. In many cases, however, treatment is unnecessary if the bat can be safely captured and found to be rabies-free.
If you are bitten by a bat, immediately wash the wound with soap and water and then seek medical attention. Since it is possible to be bitten by a bat without being aware of it, it’s important to always try to safely capture the bat for testing. In any event, report the incident to the local health department or animal control agency. Recent cases of rabies in humans in the U.S. have been due to bat bites that were not recognized or reported.
Since the rabies vaccine is temporarily in short supply, it will be up to the physician and public health officials to determine the likelihood of the animal having rabies and if the patient should be treated with post-exposure rabies vaccine.
Residents can minimize their risk of rabies exposure by taking the following precautions:
· Avoid contact with bats and other wild animals.
· Bat-proof your home by plugging or caulking any holes larger than a quarter-inch by a half-inch that bats can use to gain entry, by using chimney caps and window screens, and by ensuring that all doors to the outside close tight.
· If you are bitten by a bat, immediately wash the wound with soap and water and then seek medical attention.
- If a bat is present in your home and you cannot rule out the possibility of exposure, make every effort to capture the bat safely with heavy gloves and a container such as a coffee can. Whenever a bat is found in a room with a sleeping person, a young child or a disabled person, it is also important to have the bat tested. Immediately notify the local health department or animal control agency of any incidents.
- Protect your pets from rabies by making sure their vaccinations are up-to-date.
More information can be found at www.fw-ac-deptofhealth.com.