Rabies in Idaho: Would you know what to do if you find a bat?

Idaho public health officials have gotten reports of two rabid bats in Bonneville and Payette counties, which are Idaho’s first for this summer. Would you know what to do if you found a bat that might be carrying rabies?

What should I do if I find a bat?

The most common ways people encounter bats are after a pet brings one into the home or a bat enters a home through a small opening or open windows or doors. If you can safely avoid the bat, open windows and close doors to the rest of the house, leave it alone and it will likely go away on its own. If you find a bat outside, avoid it and leave it alone and make sure pets, livestock and others also avoid it. If you are bitten or scratched, seek medical attention. Teach children to avoid bats and to let an adult know if they find one.

What if I wake up in there is a bat in the room I was sleeping in?

If you wake up to find a bat in the room and are not be sure whether you might have been bitten or scratched as you slept, a healthcare provider should be consulted immediately. Bats have very small teeth, and it’s difficult to tell outright if you have been bitten or scratched.

What is normal bat behavior?

Bats are generally most active at night. You might see a bat during the day, but that doesn’t mean they are sick. Bats migrate into Idaho every spring, and sometimes they just need to rest along their journey and hang out on the side of a building or a tree. Just leave them alone and they will go on their way when they are ready.

How do I know if it has rabies?

Bats are the only known natural carriers of the rabies virus in Idaho and you should always avoid contact with them. While most bats do not carry rabies, an average of 15 rabid bats are detected in Idaho each year; and no area of Idaho is considered rabies-free. If a bat seems to be sick, is on the ground, or is being strange or overly aggressive, avoid it, and ensure that other people, pets, and livestock do not encounter it. Bats should be tested for rabies if there is any chance a person, pet, or livestock might have been in contact with it. There is no need to test a bat that has had no interaction with people, pets, or livestock.

How do I get a bat tested for rabies?

Call your local public health district about testing a bat for rabies. If it is determined that you, your pet, or your livestock may be at risk of rabies, the bat can be tested for free through the state public health laboratory. If you must handle a bat, always wear thick gloves. Never touch a bat with your bare hands. If the bat is alive, save it in a non-breakable container with small air holes. If it is dead, the bat should be double-bagged and sealed in clear plastic bags. Public health staff will instruct you further on what to do next.

Is rabies fatal in all instances?

Rabies infection is 100 percent fatal in people and animals without immediate medical intervention. Seek medical attention promptly for anyone who suspects they may have been exposed to rabies. Same for your animals — seek veterinary care promptly if you suspect your pet or livestock have been exposed to a rabid animal, even if your pet’s vaccinations are up to date. 

For more information about rabies in Idaho, call your local public health district or visit https://healthandwelfare.idaho.gov/health-wellness/diseases-conditions/rabies

Dr. Leslie Tengelsen is the state’s public health veterinarian.

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare is dedicated to strengthening the health, safety, and independence of Idahoans. Learn more at healthandwelfare.idaho.gov.

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