Statement issued Wednesday:
FORT WAYNE, Ind. (Sept. 15, 2010). – Mosquitoes get all the attention this time of year but they are not the only winged creatures capable of spreading serious disease.
Although bats may be helpful to humans by consuming insects like mosquitoes, they also pose the greatest risk of rabies transmission to Hoosiers and this is typically a peak time of year for encounters with the winged creatures, according to officials with the Fort Wayne-Allen County Department of Health and Fort Wayne Animal Care and Control.
Already this year, 19 bats have tested positive for rabies in Indiana, including two in Allen County. In many cases, the bats found were either handled by a person or found in close contact to people or family pets. In 2009, there were 39 rabid bats found in Indiana and nine of them in Allen County.
Rabies is a disease that affects the central nervous system. The rabies virus is carried in the saliva of infected animals and is usually transmitted to people and other animals when they are bitten or scratched by the rabid animal. If left untreated, rabies is fatal to humans and animals.
While most bats do not carry rabies, a bat that is active during the day, is unable to fly, or is found in a place where bats are not usually seen – such as a room in your home – is more likely to be rabid.
“It is extremely important for people to avoid bats or other wild animals that may appear sick or are acting aggressively or abnormally,” says Belinda Lewis, Director of Fort Wayne Animal Care and Control. “People should call their health care provider immediately if they have been bitten or scratched by a bat.”
Because a person can be bitten without knowing it, persons exposed to bats may be given the rabies vaccine as a precaution. In many cases, however, the expensive treatment is unnecessary if the bat can be safely captured and found to be rabies-free.
“Too many times we hear from residents that they let the bat go,” says Dave Fiess, director of Vector Control and Environmental Services for the health department. “While that seems like the humane thing to do, allowing the bat to escape eliminates any chance of testing it for rabies. “
More information can be found at www.allencountyhealth.com or by calling (260) 427-1244.
To reduce the risk of rabies exposure:
- Avoid contact with bats and other wild animals
- Bat-proof your home by plugging or caulking any holes larger than a quarter-inch by a half-inch that bats can use to gain entry, by using chimney caps and window screens, and by ensuring that all doors to the outside close tight. If necessary, hire a professional to do the work.
- Protect your pets from rabies by making sure their vaccinations are up-to-date. Cats living indoors should be vaccinated as they are the most likely to come into contact with a bat.
- Immediately wash the wound with soap and water and then seek medical attention
- Report the incident to your local animal control agency
- If a bat is present in your home and you cannot rule out the possibility of exposure, make every effort to capture the bat safely with heavy gloves and a container such as a coffee can. Wearing long sleeves is also recommended. City residents can contact Fort Wayne Animal Care and Control to have the bat safely removed.