State public health director warns people to avoid contact with bats

Dozens of people already reporting exposure to bats

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[August 27, 2012]  SPRINGFIELD -- Dr. LaMar Hasbrouck, state public health director, is reminding people to avoid contact with bats, as this is the time of year when bats are the most active and health officials see the most bat exposures.

"The Illinois Department of Public Health and local health departments throughout the state have already received numerous phone calls this summer about people being exposed to bats," Hasbrouck said. "It is best never to approach a bat and, if found in a home or building, people should leave the bat alone and call their local public health department or their animal control office for assistance or instructions about removing it."

Bats are the primary carrier of rabies in Illinois. Already this year, 52 bats in 24 counties have already tested positive for rabies. A total of 51 bats in Illinois tested positive for rabies in 2011.

Rabies is a virus that affects the nervous system of humans and other mammals. Humans can get rabies after being bitten by an infected animal. Rabies can also be contracted when saliva from a rabid animal gets directly into a personís eyes, nose, mouth or a wound.

People usually know when they have been bitten by a bat, but bats have very small teeth and the bite mark may not be easy to see. If you find yourself in close proximity to a bat and are not sure if you were exposed -- for example, if you wake up and find a bat in your room -- do not kill or release the bat before calling your doctor or local health department to help determine if you could have been exposed to rabies and need preventive treatment.

Any wild mammal, such as a raccoon, skunk, fox, coyote or bat, can have rabies and transmit it to humans. An animal does not have to be aggressive or exhibit other symptoms to have rabies. Changes in any animalís normal behavior, such as difficulty walking or an overall appearance of illness, can be early signs of rabies. For example, skunks are normally nocturnal and avoid contact with people, but a rabid skunk may approach humans during daylight hours. A bat that is active during the day, found on the ground or unable to fly is more likely than others to be rabid. Such bats are often easily approached but should never be handled.

"Children should be warned against petting or trying to assist a wild or unfamiliar animal. While our natural instinct may be to help or befriend bats or other animals that appear friendly or are injured, these animals can carry rabies and should be avoided," said Connie Austin, state public health veterinarian.

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. This requirement is important not only to keep your pets from getting rabies but also to provide a barrier of protection for you if your animal is bitten by a rabid animal.

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  • Keep pets under direct supervision so they do not come in contact with wild animals. If your pet is bitten by a wild animal or exposed to a bat, seek veterinary assistance for your pet immediately.

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

  • Avoid direct contact with unfamiliar animals. 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. "Love your own, leave other animals alone" is a good principle for children to learn.

  • Prevent bats from entering living quarters or occupied spaces in homes, churches, schools and other similar areas where they might come in contact with people or pets.

Information about preventing bats from entering a building is available at www.idph.state.il.us/envhealth/pcbats.htm.

For more information about rabies, visit the Illinois Department of Public Health website at www.idph.state.il.us/health/infect/reportdis/
rabies.htm
.

[Text from Illinois Department of Public Health file received from the Illinois Office of Communication and Information]

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