Bats in the belfry or roosting in the attic of an abandoned building are to be expected of the flying mammals, but if you find one in a house or on the ground, beware.
The Alabama Department of Public Health has issued a warning about bats, which along with raccoons, are the top carriers of the rabies virus in Alabama. And at this time of year, seeing them is more common. And that raises the risk for contact.
About two weeks ago, 55 children were potentially exposed to rabies when several bats were found inside the Union Springs day care they attended. Health officials have been tracking down the children to begin cautionary rabies shots.
“What we’re trying to do is prevent anyone having to take the shots. But if you dispose of the bat you found in the house or school, we have no way of knowing if it had rabies. We can test the bat to determine if that’s so,” said State Public Health Veterinarian Dr. Dee W. Jones.
While an estimated 1 percent of bats carry rabies, there are a lot of bats in Alabama, making the risk plentiful.
The danger of a rabid bat is in its saliva. Through a bite or other contact with the saliva, rabies is transmitted.
Warning signs of rabies in a bat is if you find it on the ground or out in the daylight. And sometimes, Jones said, they may not show symptoms.
“Just know, if it’s on the ground or it’s daylight, something is wrong. A lot of pets can come into contact with it on the ground and cat may bring it home,” Jones said. “We’re not asking people to go out and trap a lot of bats or kill them; they serve a good purpose because they eat a lot of insects.”
The request from Jones and other health officials is to collect any bat that gets inside the living quarters of a house, school or business so that it can be tested for rabies. Otherwise, everyone in the household, school or workplace could be subject to taking shots, which require four to six to be safe.
If you kill a bat inside the home, try not to damage the head. The tissue is important for testing. If you somehow capture it alive, use a shovel or other means to get it into a cage or box without risking a bite or exposure to saliva.
“We’re not wanting everyone to be afraid of bats. There is not a bat of any kind that hunts people down to bite them,” Jones said. “This is a valuable species, but at this time of year we especially want people to do the right things when there is potential exposure.”
Bats are considered to have a higher risk for rabies transmission to humans than other wildlife because of a unique feature not found in most other common rabies carriers. Bats have very small teeth that can puncture the skin. Their bites are often somewhat painless and may not leave characteristic bite wounds.
Although most people should definitely feel a bite from the bat, there are some situations in which a person could be bitten and not be aware of it. Examples of people who could be exposed and either not know it or not be able to tell someone include:
· A person sleeping
· A mentally impaired person
· An infant or toddler
For this reason, there are very strict guidelines concerning bat exposures to reduce the chance of rabies infections.
According to Jones, “Exposure to bats is more complicated than other animal bites because not only is there a lack of awareness that bats can have rabies, but also that their bites may be much more subtle than the typical animal bite.”
Bats have been the sole cause of all human rabies fatalities acquired within the United States over the past 20 years. Alabama has had one human death from rabies in that period, but many more reported exposures that resulted in the need for rabies preventative treatment.
David Palmer may be contacted at 256-734-2131, ext. 116.