Take Rabies Precautions If Exposed To Bats
To help protect you and your family from the threat of rabies this summer, the Community Health Services Department urges caution if exposed to bats, known carriers of rabies.
“Rabies is a serious disease caused by a virus and is fatal to humans, if left untreated,” says Dr. Chris Greensmith, (A) Medical Officer of Health for the County of Lambton.
People can become infected with rabies when saliva from a rabid bat comes in contact with broken skin or moist tissues of the mouth, nose or eyes. If either type of exposure occurs, wash the area thoroughly and seek medical attention immediately.
“Unlike other rabies carriers, bats are small and have sharp, needle-like teeth that may cause a bite with no obvious marks,” says Dr. Greensmith. “This means a bite may go unnoticed and medical treatment delayed.”
People cannot get rabies from just seeing a bat flying in an attic or flying nearby.
Seek medical attention if:
• A bat lands on a person.
• A sleeping person awakes to find a bat in their room.
• A bat is found in the room of an unattended child or someone unable to report direct contact with the bat (i.e., a mentally disabled person or intoxicated person).
Whenever possible, the bat should be safely captured. It is important to never directly handle a bat; use leather gloves or another heavy duty material when attempting to capture them. Notify the Environmental Health & Prevention Services team at 519 383-8331 or toll free 1-800-667-1839 to arrange for rabies testing. If the bat is rabid or is not available for testing, exposed persons will be advised to receive post-exposure rabies treatment.
In recent years, all positive cases of rabies in Lambton County were found in bats. Two rabid bats were reported in both 2006 and 2007. Even though no cases have been reported in Lambton this year, please take caution.
Cases of human rabies are rare in Canada. However, of the seven cases of human rabies in Canada since 1970, six were associated with bat exposures including the two recent cases, including one last year:
• April 2007, a 73-year-old Alberta man died from rabies encephalitis. The man awoke in the middle of the night in August 2006 after being bitten by a bat. Even though he was aware of the bite, he did not report the bite or seek treatment; his symptoms started in late January of 2007.
• January 2003, a 52-year-old man from Vancouver, British Columbia died from undiagnosed rabies encephalitis caused by the bat-associated rabies virus. His family reported he had encountered bats in abandoned cabins in British Columbia during the previous year.
It is important to remember that bats are very beneficial. Worldwide, they play key roles in ecosystems, from rain forests to deserts, especially by pollinating, dispersing seeds, and eating insects - including pests that cost farmers billions of dollars annually. The best protection we can offer these unique mammals is to learn more about their habitats and recognize the value of living safely with them.