Local health officials warn people to limit contact with bats
By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY – Local health officials say a Summit County visitor was bitten by a rabid bat during Memorial Day weekend, and they are cautioning residents and guests to limit contact with the flying mammals.
This is the first time a bat in the area has tested positive for rabies since 1990 when a bat behaved aggressively toward a cyclist in Tenmile Canyon.
Summit County environmental health manager Dan Hendershott said the animals are tested periodically, perhaps on the order of once a year, and the Summit County Animal control also submits bats for testing when there incidents with pets.
According to a press release from Summit County government, the bat was being aggressive toward a visiting family staying at a home in a heavily wooded area north of Silverthorne. The family has had problems with bats roosting in their home in the past. While the family was outside mid-day, the bat reportedly landed on the back of one of the individuals. A second individual was bitten by the bat while trying to remove it.
The bat was killed and submitted to the state lab for rabies testing.The results of testing showed that the bat did have rabies. The individuals who had contact with the bat are receiving the appropriate medical treatment to prevent rabies disease and will be fine.
Hendershott said the county and state wildlife officials want to make sure people understand that it’s an extremely rare event, so as to not unleash any inappropriate activities that might affect bats in general. The animals are very beneficial overall, playing a huge role in insect control, as well as in pollinating both wild and domestic plants.
“This is not a game changer for us. We’ve always known that rabies is circulating in the bat population. What this does is remind us all to be aware of the risks associated with interacting with wildlife and respond appropriately. Bats are not bad creatures.They are very beneficial to the ecosystem but should be treated with respect just as you would respect a bear or mountain lion.”
At the same time, Hendershott said rabies is very serious — thus the warning to try and limit contact with bats. No other animals have tested positive for rabies in Summit County in recent memory.
Rabies is a virus that affects the central nervous system of mammals, causing a fatal inflammation of the brain and spinal cord. Rabies virus is shed in the saliva of an infected animal and is transmitted mainly through bites. It is also possible to get the virus through the introduction of saliva into open wounds, cuts or mucous membranes, like eyes, nose and mouth. It’s most commonly associated with bats although few bats are actually infected with rabies because they are not immune to the disease and quickly die.
Experience and studies have shown that killing bats does not eliminate the occurrence of rabies in the bat populations. The best way to prevent being exposed to rabies is to take a few simple steps:
Do not pick up or handle bats – or any wildlife for that matter. Talk to kids about not handling bats.
Recognize suspicious bat behavior:
Bats are nocturnal animals. It is unusual for them to be active during full daylight hours. Both rabid bats discussed earlier were active midday.
Bats prefer to fly. If a bat is unable to take flight or is very lethargic, this might mean it is sick.
Bats want to avoid people. Be suspicious of a bat that is aggressive toward people, as both of the rabid bats discussed were.
Keep pets currently vaccinated against rabies.
Keep bats out of your home by eliminating points of entry and discouraging roosting near the home. A useful video on these techniques can be viewed at: http://www.cdphe.state.co.us/dc/zoonosis/rabies/index.html
What to Do if You Encounter a Bat
If the bat is acting normal and there has been no suspected exposure to humans or pets, don’t worry about. Bats found in the home can generally be released by turning off the lights and opening a door.
According to Shannon Schwab, District Wildlife Manager for the Division of Wildlife, “… In a dark room the bat will generally be able to feel the draft of an open door and will find its way outside. Please remember that just because a bat is in your home does not mean it should be killed and tested.”
Try to discover how the bat entered the home in order to prevent it from happening again.
If a human has definitely been bitten or scratched by a bat, you should contact a physician for possible treatment and the Summit County Animal Control (970-668-3230) for assistance in determining whether or not the bat had rabies. Thoroughly clean the wound with soap and running water for 5 minutes.
If you feel like there may have been a human or pet exposed to the bat or the bat is acting suspiciously, you should contact Summit County Animal Control. They will work with Summit County Public Health to determine an appropriate response and arrange for testing if necessary. Keep in mind that exposure to bats can occur while someone is sleeping or with unattended children. Bites or scratches may not leave an obvious wound. In these cases, it is recommended to err on the side of caution and contact Animal Control for advice and possible testing. Only bats with suspected exposure to people and pets will be considered for testing.
If the bat has been captured or killed, do not release it to the outside, as the bat may be needed for testing. Instead, the bat should be double bagged and kept cool, but not frozen. Responding to bat exposures is a medical urgency, not a medical emergency. It is important to act quickly, but do not panic.
“We are only interested in testing where there has been a suspected exposure to humans, and in some cases pets. We will not generally test bats found dead and will not test healthy bats just for surveillance,” Hendershott said.
Filed under: Colorado, Colorado Division of Wildlife, Summit County Colorado, wildlife Tagged: | bat bites, rabid bats, rabies, Summit Count bat bite, Summit County Colorado, Summit County News, wildlife