The Alabama Dept. of Public Health is warning the public to leave any bats they find alone.
This follows young children’s recent possible exposure to rabid bats. They say that bats, along with raccoons, are the primary carriers of rabies in Alabama, and the virus can be spread through bites, scratches or other contact with infected saliva.
While only a small percentage of the bat population is positive for rabies, laboratory testing is a must for any bats that may have exposed humans. The ADPH reported nine confirmed rabies-positive bats in 2018.
If you are bitten or scratched by a bat, you should get immediate medical attention. Dr. Dee W. Jones, State Public Health Veterinarian, says the most important step to take following a potential bat exposure is not to kill the bat by blunt-force trauma. Trauma to the head of the bat is the most common reason that accurate testing cannot be performed. Jones says the result of mauled or damaged specimens is that people must take treatment for rabies who would not have needed to if the bat could have been tested. The treatment regimen is one dose of rabies immunoglobulin and a series of four vaccine doses over a two-week period. He says, “The challenge is collecting the bat without further exposing yourself, so gloves should be worn and a shovel, net or other tools can be used to avoid touching it if possible.”
ADPH recommends putting the bat in a container with air holes and taking it to a licensed veterinarian for euthanasia.
According to ADPH, 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. While they have very small teeth that can puncture the skin, their bites are often somewhat painless and may not leave bite wounds.
Although most people should definitely feel a bite from a bat, there are some situations in which a person could be bitten and not be aware of it. Examples of people that could be exposed and either not know it or not be able to tell someone include the following:
– A person sleeping
– A person with mental impairment
– An infant or toddler
For this reason, there are very strict guidelines concerning bat exposures to reduce the chance of rabies infections. According to Dr. 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.
Although bats do have pose a public health risk, they are a very important species to nature. They consume insects and biting pests and pollinate flowers; the only problem comes with human contact.
“Problems arise when bats and humans inhabit the same dwellings,” Dr. Jones said. “It is common for bats to roost in the rafters and attics of houses, schools or other buildings and occasionally some of the bats can get inside of the living quarters. Contrary to popular thought, the age of the building doesn’t necessarily indicate the risk of having a bat roost. We have investigated reports of roosts in newer buildings and sports stadiums on school campuses, as well as older buildings in the community.”
The ADPH recommends that people should follow the advice of wildlife officials, licensed exterminators and contractors on how to exclude bats from a building. Follow these basic steps to best protect yourself from exposure to bats and rabies:
– If you are bitten or scratched by a bat, seek medical attention immediately.
– If you awaken and find a bat in your bedroom or in the room of an unattended child or a person with mental impairment, seek advice from your medical provider and report it to your county health department.
– If possible, collect the bat in an escape-proof container with air holes and take to a local veterinarian for euthanasia. Do not induce trauma by blunt force.
– If you see a bat in your home and you are sure no human or pet exposure has occurred, confine the bat to a room by closing all doors and windows leading out of the room except those to the outside. The bat will probably leave soon.
– Please refer to alabamapublichealth.gov for more advice about bat infestations and exposures and bat-proofing your home.
Source: Alabama Dept. of Public Health