Rabies in Idaho: Handle bats with care (and very thick gloves)!

rabiesmapWe haven’t had a report yet, but since this seems to be around the time of year we start to receive reports about rabid bats, so it’s a good time to talk about rabies. Many people still associate getting infected with rabies with domestic dog bites, but since 1960 the majority of all rabid animal cases in the U.S. have been in wild animals and bats.

Why is rabies so scary?

Because the virus 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 a rabies infection, usually because they’ve been bitten or scratched by an animal and didn’t seek medical attention soon enough.

What animals in Idaho carry the rabies virus?

In Idaho, the main carrier animal is the bat, but rabies also has been found in other wild and domestic animals. In other states, raccoons, skunks, and foxes are also natural carriers of the virus. All animals that are mammals should be considered potentially rabid if they bite, scratch, or expose people to their saliva. 

How common is it in Idaho?                                                           

We average about 16 rabid bat reports a year in our state. Last year, we had 15, and they were pretty well scattered across the state. Even though most bats don’t carry the disease, you can’t always tell if they are sick, so you should always avoid them if you can.

What should you do if a possibly rabid bat or animal bites or scratches you or your pet?

Washing the wound thoroughly right away with soap and water is one of the most effective ways to decrease your chance of infection. Then you should call your doctor to talk about the situation. Contact your veterinarian as well if your pet was exposed, even if they are vaccinated.

What kind of medical attention should you expect if you are exposed?

If there’s a possibility that you’ve been exposed to rabies, you could be given the rabies vaccination series, but each situation is different. The series is one dose of immune globulin and four doses of rabies vaccine in a 14-day period, most often given in the arm. You’ll get the immune globulin and the first dose of the vaccine on the same day, and the rest of the shots are spread out over a few weeks.

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 by a lab. People usually come into contact with bats when a pet brings one home, or when it gets into your house some other way. If you wake up and find a bat in your room, you may have been exposed without knowing it. They have tiny teeth, so it can be difficult to know if you’ve been bitten. If possible, try to capture the bat (wearing leather gloves), and then have it tested for rabies and see a doctor about your potential risk for exposure. 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, you should never touch a bat with your bare hands. Wear leather gloves if you must touch it. Keep bats out of your house or cabin by plugging all the holes in the siding and maintaining tight-fitting screens on windows.

Be sure your pets’ rabies vaccinations are up to date, even if they are strictly indoor pets. That includes dogs, cats, and horses.

And finally, teach your children to avoid bats and to immediately tell an adult if they find one.

A Closer Look at Your Health airs weekly on Boise’s Newsradio KBOI 670 AM; this is the June 19, 2018 program transcript. 




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