Watch Out for Bats
Warm weather is here and the Haywood County Health Department wants to remind citizens to watch out for unwanted guests in your homes, campsites and summer camps – bats infected with rabies.
“The problem with bats is that their teeth are very small and bites may leave a mark that disappears quickly,” said Haywood County Health Director Carmine Rocco. “While most people will probably know if they get bitten, bats sometimes get into buildings and bite people when they’re asleep, and they might not know it.”
Most bats do not carry rabies, Rocco said, but if saliva from an infected bat gets into a person’s eyes, ears, mouth or a wound, infection is possible.
“If you are bitten by a bat, you should wash the affected area thoroughly with soap and water and get medical advice immediately,” Rocco said. “If possible, the bat should be captured and sent to a laboratory for rabies testing.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that post-exposure vaccination is essential if a bat, or other animal, tests positive for rabies or is not available for testing. If you’re not sure if a contact has occurred, but a bat is found on or near you, vaccination may also be warranted.
According to the CDC, infants, young children and people with reduced mental function due to medication, alcohol, illness or age should be considered at higher risk since they may not have known or be able to tell others if they were bitten.
Rabies is a fatal disease in humans, but getting prompt treatment can prevent it from developing. Rocco said it was important that treatment begin before the onset of any symptoms of rabies.
“The time between exposure and development of symptoms can vary,” Rocco said. “It may be a few weeks for some people or several months for others. That’s why we recommend that anyone who may have been exposed to rabies contact their health care provider and begin treatment as soon as possible.”
“Some people may experience local reactions, such as pain, skin rash, swelling or itching at the injection site,” he said. “Other reactions could be headache, nausea and muscle aches. It is unlikely that anyone would have side effects that would warrant discontinuing the treatment.”
If bats are discovered at a summer camp where campers are sleeping, the Health Department will make a careful assessment of the potential for rabies exposure on a case-by-case basis, Rocco said. Health officials will consider many things in making the assessment, including the following:
- Whether the bats were separated from campers by screening;
- How many people saw the bats;
- Where and when the bats were seen; and
- Whether or not supervisory adults were present or made bed checks and how often.
“We’ll also consider the number of people present in a sleeping area, the age of the campers, and the type, size, age and history of the structure where the bats were found, among other things,” Rocco said. “Where possible, we’ll try to determine the species of bat.”
If bats get into your home, the CDC recommends the following ways to capture them:
- Find a small container like a box or a large can, and a piece of cardboard large enough to cover the opening in the container. Punch small air holes in the cardboard;
- Put on leather work gloves. When the bat lands, approach it slowly and place the container over it. Slide the cardboard over the container and take the bat outdoors and release it away from people and pets.
- If there’s any question about contact between the bat and people or pets, you will want to save the bat for testing. Tape the cardboard to the container, securing the bat inside and then contact the health department at 828-452-6675 to have the bat tested for rabies. If an incident occurs after hours or on weekends or holidays, contact Haywood County Animal Services @ 452-6600.
There are many places where bats might set up temporary living quarters in your home. If it appears that bats have taken up residence in your home, it’s important to take steps to “bat-proof” your home. But don’t do it now, wait until after August.
“It is important to avoid bat-proofing your home between May and August,” Rocco said. “If there are young bats in your attic, for example, many of them can’t fly and keeping the adults out will trap the young, who will die or try to make their way into your rooms.”
Most bats leave in the fall or winter to hibernate, so the CDC recommends these as the best times to protect your home by sealing openings in doors, windows, attics and chimneys that may allow bats access to your living spaces. You may also wish to consult with a trained and licensed Wildlife Damage Control Agent for assistance. A county-by-county listing is available at http://www.ncwildlife.org/Nuisance_Wildlife/Nuisance_Contact_WDCA.htm.
For more information, contact the Haywood County Health Department at 828-452-6675. For more information on rabies in North Carolina and links to current rabies data, visit http://www.epi.state.nc.us/epi/vet.html.