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Caution Around Bats, Other Wildlife, Stray Dogs, Cats

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

Summer and fall mean more outdoor time and more open windows—and more chances for people to come in contact with wildlife, including flying bats.

Any mammal, especially carnivores (meat eaters), may carry rabies. And while most domestic dogs and cats are vaccinated against rabies, which is required under N.C. state law, wild animals are not, so it is important to avoid contact with wild or unfamiliar animals, including baby animals.

Never touch, pet or feed wild or stray animals, whether they appear to be sick or not. Keep garbage and food in tightly sealed containers and feed your pets indoors. Open containers of food — including pet food — or garbage may attract these animals to your yard or campsite.

If you are bitten by a wild or stray animal, contact a physician immediately. Bites from wild terrestrial carnivores present a high risk of rabies exposure. Notify animal control immediately if you have any exposure to raccoons, skunks, foxes, coyotes, bobcats or large rodents such as beavers, so that the animal can be collected for testing if possible.

Avoid any physical contact with unfamiliar dogs, cats and other pets like ferrets. Pet only animals that you know have been vaccinated against rabies. Make sure your own pets have up-to-date rabies vaccinations, and do not leave your pets outdoors unattended. Do not try to separate animals that are fighting. If your pet comes in contact with an animal that might be rabid, contact your veterinarian. If you are bitten by someone’s pet, get the owner’s name, address, and telephone number; wash the wound thoroughly with soap and water; and contact your doctor.

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While many people are aware that raccoons, foxes and unvaccinated dogs and cats may carry rabies, many do not know that bats can also transmit this deadly disease to people. And because bats are small and quiet, and their bites are usually painless, people don’t always realize when they have been bitten.

In recent years, there have only been a few human cases of rabies in the United States and most of those cases were traced to bats. Bat bites can be difficult to detect and may not cause a person to wake from a sound sleep. Do not sleep in a cabin, tent, shelter or lodging facility if bats are present. If you awaken to find a bat in your room, tent or cabin, it should be safely captured and tested for rabies as quickly as possible, and you should seek medical advice immediately. If you can confine the bat in a closed room where it cannot escape, do that and call your local animal control for help. Never handle a bat with your bare hands.

If you know you have been bitten by a bat, thoroughly wash the wound with lots of soap and water and call a doctor immediately. If you can’t capture the bat, then you must still talk with a physician about what medical care you might need. If there is a chance you may have been exposed to rabies, or if the animal is caught and it tests positive for rabies, you may need to get a series of shots to prevent rabies disease. You cannot wait to see if you get sick, because there is no known cure once the disease develops.

Through the first six months of 2008, a total of 239 rabid animals were identified in 56 counties in North Carolina. Most – 148 – of these cases were in raccoons. Ten or more cases each have been identified in Yadkin, Orange, Wake and Guilford counties, and twenty cases each have been identified in Forsyth and Wilkes counties. Recently, in Lenoir County, a woman picked up a raccoon found by the side of the road and took it to a veterinary clinic. It turned out the animal was infected with rabies, putting her at risk of developing the deadly disease. So, please remember to leave wildlife alone.

Human rabies vaccine is available for people who have been exposed to rabies, but supplies are currently somewhat limited nationally. There is no shortage of animal rabies vaccine for domestic dogs and cats, which are required by N.C. law to be vaccinated against the disease.

Rabies is a fatal disease, but people can protect themselves and their families by following these common-sense guidelines. And if people do come into contact with a bat—even briefly—or other potentially rabid animal, it is important to know to see a doctor right away.