State health director warns residents to avoid contact with bats

By on July 1, 2011

SPRINGFIELD—With summer beginning, Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Damon T. Arnold is warning Illinoisans to avoid contact with bats as they start becoming more active during this time of year. Bats are the primary carrier of rabies in Illinois. Thirteen bats and one bovine have tested positive for rabies already this year.

“Over the past couple years, the department has received increasing reports and phone calls about people coming into contact with, or being exposed to, bats,” said Dr. Arnold. “It’s important to remember that you should never try to approach or catch a bat, or any wild animal, in your home. Instead, call your local animal control agency for its recommendations.”

In 2010, 117 bats tested positive for rabies in Illinois.

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 the eyes, nose, mouth or a wound. Without preventive treatment, rabies is a fatal disease. If you have been bitten or exposed to a bat, seek immediate medical attention. Treatment with rabies immune globulin and a vaccine series must begin immediately.

“You cannot tell by looking at a bat if it is rabid. The animal does not have to be aggressive or exhibit other symptoms to have rabies,” said Connie Austin, state public health veterinarian. “Any wild mammal, such as a raccoon, skunk, fox, coyote or bat, can have rabies and transmit it to humans.”

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 on the ground or is unable to fly, is more likely than others to be rabid. Such bats are often easily approached, but should never be handled.

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 immediate veterinary assistance for your pet 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. “Love your own, leave other animals alone” is a good principle for children to learn to reduce the risk of exposures to rabid animals.
• Maintain homes and other buildings so bats cannot gain entry.
• If a bat is in your home, do not release the bat outdoors until after speaking with animal control or public health officials. If you are able to do so without putting yourself at risk for physical contact or being bitten, try to cover the bat with a large can or bucket, and close the door to the room.

Information about keeping bats out of your home or buildings can be found by logging on to www.idph.state.il.us/envhealth/pcbats.htm. Information about rabies can be found at www.idph.state.il.us/health/infect/reportdis/rabies.htm.