Several Northern Kentucky families have gotten a rude awakening this summer.
They awoke to find bats flying around their bedrooms, hanging on curtains or lying on a blanket. Beyond the initial shock of realizing a wild animal had entered their homes, these families are finding out that they are at risk for rabies.
The connection between bats in a home and rabies is due to three factors.
First, bats are commonly infected with the rabies virus. Ninety percent of rabies fatalities in the United States in recent years were attributed to bat exposures, and 5 to 10 percent of all bats tested for rabies in Kentucky are positive.
Second, bats have tiny, sharp teeth and often leave no bite marks, making it difficult to determine whether someone has been bitten; thus, a person who is sleeping, is under the influence of medication or alcohol, or a child cannot be sure whether he/she has been bitten. If the bat in question is not available for testing, then the Health Department will typically recommend that those involved undergo rabies vaccination.
Third, if a person is exposed to the virus and left untreated, rabies causes neurological disease and death. The rabies vaccine is nearly 100 percent effective at treating the virus, but involves four rabies shots and one antibody shot over a period of two weeks. Rabies vaccine can also be expensive, with costs ranging from $2,000 to $6,000 for the series, with additional fees for doctors or emergency room visits.
"This summer, 15 people have had to make the difficult decision to undergo rabies vaccination; and 13 of those were due to exposure to bats," said Lynne M. Saddler, MD, MPH, District Director of Health. "It's important that we all take steps to avoid contact with bats when at all possible. Remember that exposure to bats, and all bites from mammals, are required to be reported to the Health Department. "
The Health Department recommends the following:
Make sure your dogs, cats and ferrets are up to date on their rabies vaccinations.
Do not handle bats and teach your children to stay away from them as well.
If you are bitten by a bat, contact a health care provider.
Either on your own, or through a pest control professional, evaluate your home to ensure that there are no avenues available for bats to enter. This includes under roof eaves, attic vents, chimneys, window screens, gaps in the siding. Any opening not properly protected can allow bats entry into a home. If openings are found they can be corrected by screening, netting, sealing gaps, or other appropriate means depending on the item.
If bats are believed to be roosting somewhere in the structure, have a professional determine the extent of the problem and address the removal of the bat colony. This generally needs to be done during warm months before the bats hibernate for the winter.
Consider what time you see the bat. Bats are nocturnal animals, so those found during daylight hours or otherwise seeming to have trouble flying have a higher likelihood of being infected with rabies.
"The tips above are helpful, but we realize that it is impossible to completely eliminate exposure to bats," said Saddler. "However, if a bat can be safely captured, rabies testing of the bat can be used to rule out human exposure and eliminate the need for vaccination of family members."
To safely capture a bat:
Wear heavy leather gloves. Do not handle the bat with bare hands.
Place a small box or coffee can over the bat. Slide a piece of cardboard under the box and tape securely.
Contact your veterinarian or local animal control personnel for information on euthanizing the animal so that the head and brain are not damaged, which will allow for rabies testing.
Contact the Health Department at 859.341.4151 for information about submitting the specimen for testing, and additional information about exposures.