Bat encounters can put you at risk for rabies

The bottom line is it’s important to avoid coming into physical contact with bats

  • Jul. 3, 2017 1:30 a.m.

Interior Health Authority

Some people think they are cute and others find them creepy. Whether you are fascinated or fearful, the bottom line is it’s important to avoid coming into physical contact with bats, the primary carrier of the rabies virus in B.C.

Rabies is a very serious disease that affects the nervous system. It is almost always fatal if not treated in time. In 2016, 61 people in the Interior Health region were treated for potential exposure to rabies.

Between four and eight per cent of the bats that are tested after coming into contact with people are found to have the rabies virus. Infected bats can transmit rabies to humans when their saliva comes into contact with a person’s mucus membranes (eyes, nose, and mouth) or through a break in the skin.

Warm weather activities can lead to unexpected encounters with bats.

Interior Health offers these tips:

• Never touch live or dead bats.

• Make your home or cabin “bat proof.”

• If you find a live bat in a room of your home, open the window until the bat leaves.

• If your home or workplace is inhabited by bats, seek professional bat-control advice. Bats are a protected species under the BC Wildlife Act.

• Avoid locations or activities where bats are likely to be found (e.g. caves).

• If you have a pet dog, cat, or ferret, make sure they are vaccinated regularly against rabies.

All contact with bats should be taken seriously. Scratches or bites may not be visible or painful. If you have been bitten or scratched:

• Thoroughly wash the wounds with soap and water.

• Contact your local public health unit or family doctor immediately. Do not wait for symptoms to appear.

• Call a wildlife or pest control company to capture the bat. If trying to capture the bat yourself, avoid contact by wearing leather gloves, a hat, long sleeves, and pants.

• Safely contain the bat in a secure, covered container to prevent others from being exposed. Keep the bat in a safe location until public health can arrange to pick it up and test it for rabies.

Early treatment is crucial to prevent rabies from progressing. Treatment involves a two-week period of vaccinations that must be administered as soon as possible after exposure.

For more information, see BC Community Bat Programs: www.bcbats.ca/

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