Health officials warn parents, children about handling bats
With schools around the state back in session, public health officials are asking parents and schools to talk with children about never handling live or dead bats.
In 2006, children walking to school in Boise found a bat, which they took to school and exposed a number of other curious children to the potentially deadly rabies disease.
Rabid bats are detected in Idaho every year; no area of the state is considered free of rabies.
Twenty bats have tested positive for rabies in Idaho so far this year. The seasonal average for rabid bats in Idaho is 15.
At least 49 people have undergone rabies vaccinations after suspected or confirmed exposures to a rabid animal.
The most recent rabid bat was captured in central Idaho over Labor Day weekend after swooping down on people in an outdoor pool.
“It is very important for parents to teach children to never handle a bat, or any other unfamiliar wild or domestic animal, even if they appear friendly,” says Dr. Leslie Tengelsen, Idaho Deputy State Epidemiologist. “Don’t let them bring bats into show-and-tell, and teach children to report any contact with a bat to an adult right away.”
It is extremely important for people to avoid bats or other wild animals that appear sick or are acting aggressively or abnormally.
“People should call their healthcare providers immediately if they have been bitten or scratched by a bat. Medical management of people after an animal bite is extremely effective in preventing rabies, a virtually 100% fatal infection,” says Dr. Tengelsen.
Bats play an important role in our environment. While most bats are harmless and do not carry rabies, they are the only animal in Idaho that is a natural reservoir for the virus and should be appreciated from a distance.
To protect yourself and your pets, the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare offers these tips:
- Parents should teach their children to avoid bats, never bring them to school for show-and-tell, and to let an adult know if they find one.
- Do not touch a bat with your bare hands. If you have had contact with a bat or wake up to find a bat in your room, seek medical advice immediately. The teeth of a bat are very small and people are sometimes bitten in their sleep without feeling it. Any bat found in a home should be tested for rabies if there is any suspicion that an exposure to a person or pet might have occurred.
- If you come in contact with a bat, save it in a non-breakable container if it is alive, or sealed and double-bagged in clear plastic bags without touching it; always wear thick gloves. Call your public health district to determine whether testing the bat for rabies is indicated. If it is determined that you or your pet may be at risk of exposure to rabies, testing of the bat is a free service.
- Rabies is deadly for pets, too. Always vaccinate your dogs, cats, ferrets, and horses — even indoor pets could be exposed to rabies if a bat gets into a home.
- Bat-proof your home or cabin by plugging all holes in the siding and maintaining tight-fitting screens on windows. For information about bat-proofing your home after bats have migrated away, see http://www.cdc.gov/rabies/bats/management/index.html
For more information, call your Public Health District. Information on rabies can be found at the following website: http://www.rabies.dhw.idaho.gov