June 5, 2001
PRECAUTIONS URGED TO PREVENT RABIES
SPRINGFIELD, IL Dr. John R. Lumpkin, state public health director, today urged Illinois residents to take precautions to lessen exposure to bats, the most commonly identified rabid animal in the state, as well as to other wild animals.
"As bats become more active in warmer weather, the possibility of human contact with these animals increases," Dr. Lumpkin said. "It is best never to handle a bat. If found in a home, people should call their local public health department or animal control agency for advice on how to safely capture the animal and assess whether there was a potential rabies exposure. If bitten, wash the affected area thoroughly with soap and water and seek medical advice immediately."
The Illinois Department of Public Health has recently received three reports of human bat exposure, including two people who were bitten. In one case, a young girl was bitten on her finger while sleeping and, in another, a woman stepped on a bat in her garage. The third person, a veterinarian, was trying to capture a bat in a home when the bat spit on him. All three of the bats were found to be rabid and the persons affected received anti-rabies treatment.
Of the nearly 4,000 animals tested in 2000 by the Public Health and Illinois Department of Agriculture diagnostic laboratories, 22 bats tested positive for rabies, but no other animals were found to be rabid. A decade ago, skunks were the most commonly identified animal with rabies in Illinois.
Any wild mammal, like a raccoon, skunk, fox, coyote or bat, can have rabies and transmit it to people. The animal need not be foaming at the mouth or be exhibiting rabies symptoms. Changes in the animal's normal behavior, difficulty with walking, or just an overall appearance of illness can be early signs of rabies. For example, skunks, which normally are nocturnal and avoid contact with people, may appear friendly or ill and may approach humans during daylight hours.
As for bats, a bat that is active by day; is found in a place where bats are not usually seen, such as in your home or on the lawn; or is unable to fly is far more likely than others to be rabid. Such bats are often the most easily approached, but should not be handled.
"Although our natural instinct is to befriend or help an animal that seems friendly or injured, stray and wild animals should be avoided," Dr. Lumpkin said. "Children especially should be warned against petting or trying to help any wild or unfamiliar animal."
Rabies is an infectious viral disease that affects the nervous system of humans and other mammals. People get rabies from the bite of an infected animal or if infectious material from a rabid animal, such as saliva, gets directly into their eyes, nose, mouth or a wound.
Over the past century, rabies in the United States has changed dramatically. More than 90 percent of all animal cases reported annually now occur in wildlife, while before 1960 the majority were in domestic animals. There is an average of one or two cases of rabies in the United States each year, but no human case has occurred in Illinois since 1954. Bats are of particular rabies concern because the majority of human cases in the United States since 1990 have been due to strains of the rabies virus associated with bats.
Dr. Lumpkin offered the following tips to prevent rabies:
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