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Health department warns against handling bats

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[August 22, 2009]  Due to an increase in reported exposures in the past few weeks, the Logan County Department of Public Health is urging residents to avoid contact with bats as we approach the time of year when bats are the most active. Bats are the primary carrier of rabies in Illinois, but any wild mammal, such as a raccoon, skunk, fox or coyote, can have rabies and transmit it to humans. So far in 2009, approximately 40 bats have tested positive in Illinois.

Rabies is a virus that affects the nervous system of humans and other mammals. Humans get rabies after being bitten, or more rarely after being scratched, by an infected animal. If infectious material from a rabid animal, such as saliva, gets directly into the eyes, nose, mouth or a wound, rabies can result. Without preventive treatment, rabies is a fatal disease.

Changes in any animal's normal behavior, such as difficulty walking or an overall appearance of illness, can be early signs of rabies. For example, rabid skunks, which normally are nocturnal and avoid contact with people, may approach humans during daylight hours. A bat that is active during the day, found in a place where a bat is not usually seen (such as in a home or on the lawn) or unable to fly is more likely than others to be rabid. Such bats are often easily approached but should never be handled.

In Illinois, bats are a protected species and laws limit their extermination unless located in a residential dwelling. If bats are found in a residence and it is suspected that people or pets may have been bitten or exposed to infectious materials, contact Logan County Animal Control at 217-735-3232 to remove the bats. Bats collected by or submitted to Logan County Animal Control can be tested for rabies.

If bats cannot be collected or tested, people in the home should contact their primary care physician or the Logan County Department of Public Health at 217-735-2317 to determine if they meet the qualifications for rabies post-exposure prophylaxis.

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The following tips can help prevent the spread of rabies:

  • Be a responsible pet owner. Keep vaccinations up to date for all dogs, cats and ferrets.

  • Seek veterinary assistance for your pet immediately if your pet is bitten by a wild animal or exposed to a bat.

  • Call the local animal control agency to remove stray animals in your neighborhood.

  • Do not handle, feed or unintentionally attract wild animals with open garbage cans or litter.

  • Never adopt wild animals or bring them into your home. Do not try to nurse sick animals to health. Call animal control or an animal rescue agency for assistance.

  • Teach children never to handle unfamiliar animals, wild or domestic, even if they appear friendly. To reduce the risk of exposure to rabid animals, "Love your own, leave other animals alone" is a good principle for children to learn.

Information about bats and bat exclusion is available at http://www.idph.state.il.us/envhealth/pcbats.htm.

Information about rabies is available at http://www.idph.state.il.us/health/

[Text from file received from the Logan County Department of Public Health]

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