Rabies in Idaho: Leave bats alone!

(Note: A Closer Look At Your Health airs most Tuesdays at 6:50 a.m. on KBOI News Radio 670. This is an edited transcript of the segment from June 28. Since then, another bat has tested positive for rabies, bringing the grand total to two so far this summer.) 

Rabid bats are found every year in Idaho, mostly between May and November. We’ve had one report of a rabid bat this year; it was found in Meridian. There likely will be more, so it’s a good idea to remind your kids that if they see a bat they should leave it alone and tell an adult.

Why is it important for children to leave bats alone?

Rabies infection is 100-percent fatal for people and animals who do not get timely medical attention. A couple of people in the United States die each year from it, usually because they’ve been bitten or scratched by bat and didn’t seek medical attention right away. The bite of a bat can be so small that people don’t realize the risk associated with it.

Is the bat the only animal that carries the virus in Idaho?

In Idaho, the bat is the main animal that carries rabies, but the virus has also been found in other wild and domestic mammals. All wild mammals should be considered potentially rabid if they bite, scratch, or expose people to their saliva, particularly if they are not acting normally.

How common is it in Idaho?                                                             

Since 1999, we have averaged about 15 rabid bat reports in the state each year. Last year we had 10, but we had 27 reports in 2013. So you can see that the number can vary quite a bit. Most bats don’t carry the disease, but it’s best to avoid them because you can’t typically tell if they are sick.

What should you do if you think you may have been bitten?

Wash the wound thoroughly if you are bitten or scratched by an animal that could be carrying the rabies virus. That is one of the most effective ways to decrease your chance of infection. Then call a doctor and tell them about your exposure. If there’s a possibility that you’ve been exposed to rabies, your doctor may start you on the rabies vaccination series, but each situation is unique. The same process applies to your pets. Call a veterinarian and explain what happened to find out what you should do next. Don’t wait too long to make that call for a person or an animal.

How can you tell if a bat is sick?

The only way to know for sure that a bat has rabies is to have it tested. People usually come into contact with bats when they get into homes or when a cat brings them inside. If you wake up and find a bat in your room, you may have been exposed without knowing it. Their tiny teeth make it difficult to know if you’ve been bitten. To have a bat tested, start by calling your local public health district; they can work with you and sometimes your veterinarian to have the bat tested for free.

How can we protect ourselves and our pets from rabies?

  • First and foremost, don’t ever touch a bat with bare hands. Wear leather gloves if you have to touch it.
  • Bat-proof homes and cabins by plugging all the holes in the siding and maintain tight-fitting screens on windows.
  • Be sure your pets’ rabies vaccinations are up to date, even if the animals are strictly indoor pets. That includes dogs, cats, and horses.
  • And finally, teach your children to avoid bats and to tell an adult if they find one.

Resources:

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