Bats are flying mammals and found in nearly every habitat throughout Ohio. They are an important part of our ecosystem. In one night, a single bat can eat thousands of mosquitoes and flying insects. Like all other mammals, they are susceptible to the rabies virus.
It is estimated that around four percent of the bats in Ohio are infected with the rabies virus, so extreme caution is needed when handling a bat. Most of the human rabies cases in the U.S. during the past 20 years have been due to the bat-strain of rabies.
Recently, a homeowner in Good Hope Township found a bat and tried to feed it. They were careful and used tweezers to give the bat mealworms. Unfortunately, every time the bat dropped a mealworm, they would pick it up with their fingers instead of using the tweezers thereby unknowingly exposing themselves to the bat’s saliva.
The rabies virus is carried in the saliva, central nervous tissue and brain of an infected animal. Other mammals, including people, become infected when they come in contact with the saliva, central nervous tissue or brain of an infected animal through a bite, open wound, or if the saliva comes in contact with mucous membrane such as the eye.
Since the bat would not feed, the homeowner took the bat to the Ohio Wildlife Center in Columbus which operates the state’s largest, free native wildlife hospital. Unfortunately, the bat died and was tested for rabies. The test confirmed the bat was rabid and as a result, the Ohio Department of Health (ODH) contacted the Hocking County Health Department so we could reach out to the homeowner.
Rabies is an infectious viral disease that affects the nervous system of humans and other mammals. Once symptoms appear, it is almost 100 percent fatal. In the United States, there has only been one documented case of a person surviving from rabies after the onset of symptoms. For these reasons, Ohio classifies Rabies as Class A reportable disease. Since it is a major public health concern it is closely tracked by ODH and local health departments.
Environmental Director Wendy Hanna explained, “The Health Department is involved in all animal bites to make sure the biting animal does not have rabies. The only way to tell if an animal has rabies is to quarantine and watch the animal to see if it becomes sick or dies, or to have the animal tested which requires the animal be euthanized. People and other mammals can get rabies from the bite of an infected animal or when infectious material from the rabid animal, such as saliva, gets directly into their eyes, nose, mouth, or a wound.”
She continued, “Just like with ticks and mosquitoes which can carry and transmit a variety of diseases, we don’t want people to panic but just want to raise awareness concerning bats and rabies. They are an important part of our ecosystem so we want people to know what to do if they or their pets come in contact with a bat.
“If you are bitten by a bat, or if infectious material gets into your eyes, nose, mouth or fresh wound, wash the affected area thoroughly with soap and water and contact your physician immediately. Whenever possible, carefully catch the bat and contact the Health Department. There is no cost to test the bat.”
The homeowner assured us they were not bit by the animal. Unfortunately, they did have a pre-existing scratch on their wrist and could not be certain, since they were handling the mealworms with their fingers, if saliva from the bat had come in contact with the scratch or if they had accidentally touched their eye. As a result, they decided to take the safe route and began the Post Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP).
According to the Ohio Department of Health, since a bat bite is very small and may go undetected, the history of any potential bat contact should be carefully evaluated to determine the potential for exposure. A bat exposure includes the following:
• a bat in the room with a sleeping person or unattended child
• a bat near a mentally impaired or intoxicated person
• a bat in firewood hand-carried into the house
There are other ways you can protect you and your family from rabies:
• If bats are found, they should be humanely removed by trained professionals and the home bat-proofed to prevent future infestations.
• The best time to bat-proof your home is in the fall or winter otherwise you may trap young bats that cannot fly in your home.
• Vaccinate your pets against rabies. Even house cats should be vaccinated as they can come into contact with bats that can get in the house.
• Use only a licensed veterinarian for the rabies vaccination. Self-administered vaccines are not accepted by law, and due to poor quality control, the vaccine you purchase may not even be any good.
• Teach your children to avoid unknown animals and to know to tell you if they are bitten or scratched by an animal.
• People should not keep wild animals as pets as there is no rabies vaccine approved for these species.
• If an animal bites you, thoroughly wash the wound with soap and water immediately, consult your physician, and report the incident to the local Health Department.
• If the biting animal is alive, keep it confined for observation. Otherwise, keep the carcass cool so the head can be sent to the lab for testing. It is extremely important the head is not damaged.
For more information about rabies, contact the Hocking County Health Department at 740-385-3030 or visit our website at www.hockingcountyhealthdepartment.com.
Written by Wendy Hanna, RS, Hocking County Health Department, to be published in The Logan Daily News.