Do not handle bats; pets in Mobile exposed to rabies
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Dee W. Jones, D.V.M.
The recent exposure of two family pets to a rabid bat in Mobile County has caused local and state health authorities to issue a reminder about the potential for bats to transmit rabies. Two dogs were exposed while interacting with a bat that was alive but on the ground and could not fly. Bats, along with raccoons, are the primary reservoirs for rabies in Alabama. Rabies is a viral infection in mammals that is transmitted by bites, scratches or other contact with infected saliva. Rabies virus is present only in saliva and nervous tissue; it is not transmitted through contact with guano (bat feces), blood or urine from infected animals.
Estimates vary, but generally it is estimated that 0.5 to 2 percent of the bat population is positive for rabies. Bats that are not able to fly or that are out during the day have a higher incidence of being positive for rabies. Laboratory testing is the only definitive method for identifying rabies positive bats that may have exposed humans. In 2017, the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) has reported 7 laboratory-confirmed rabies-positive bats.
Although bats can pose a public health risk, they are a very important species to nature. They consume insects, biting pests and pollinate flowers. Dr. Dee W. Jones, State Public Health Veterinarian, says, “Problems arise when bats and humans inhabit the same dwellings. 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. 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.”
According to Dr. Jones, the most important step to take following a potential bat exposure is to safely collect it and preserve it for testing. He states, “The challenge is collecting the bat without further exposing yourself, so gloves should be worn and a shovel, net or other tool can be used to avoid touching it if possible.”
Rabies is a fatal disease if left untreated, but is preventable if proper treatment is received soon following the bite or scratch. Anyone exposed to a bat should consult with a medical provider immediately. Vaccination for pets 12 weeks of age and older is required by state law.
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 and pets from exposure to bats and rabies:
- Vaccinate pets against rabies according to your veterinarian’s recommendation.
- 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 mentally impaired person, 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 http://www.alabamapublichealth.gov/infectiousdiseases/rabies.html for more advice about bat infestations and exposures.
For more information about rabies risk locally or in Alabama, please contact the Mobile County Health Department Infectious Disease & Outbreak Division at (251) 690-8970 or (251) 690-8175 or call ADPH at (800) 677-0939 or (334) 206-5100.
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ALABAMA DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC HEALTH
RSA Tower 201 Monroe Street, Suite 910, Montgomery, AL 36104
Phone: (334) 206-5300 | Fax: (334) 206-5520