|May 21, 2003|
ILLINOISANS URGED TO TAKE PRECAUTIONS TO PREVENT RABIES
SPRINGFIELD, IL Dr. Eric E. Whitaker, 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 animals.
"As the weather warms up, bats become more active and the possibility of human contact with these animals increases," Dr. Whitaker said. "Bats may carry rabies. In fact, 5 percent to 10 percent of all bats tested in Illinois are positive for rabies. It is best never to approach a bat. If found in a home, citizens should call their local public health department or animal control agency for removal of the bat and to assess whether rabies treatment is needed. If bitten by an animal, wash the affected area thoroughly with soap and water and seek medical advice immediately."
The Illinois Department of Public Health has recently received two reports of human exposure to bats. In one case, a young girl was bitten while petting a bat and, in another, a boy was exposed to a bat he was keeping in a bucket. One of the two bats was found to be rabid and the affected child received anti-rabies treatment.
Of the nearly 4,000 animals tested in 2002 by the IDPH and Illinois Department of Agriculture diagnostic laboratories, 31 bats tested positive for rabies. No other animals were found to be rabid. A decade ago, skunks were the most commonly identified animals with rabies in Illinois.
Any wild animal, 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.
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.
"Adults should teach children not to pet or try to help any wild or unfamiliar animal," Dr. Whitaker said. "Unfamiliar stray and wild animals should be avoided, even if they seem friendly or injured."
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 human 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.
The following tips can help prevent rabies:
of Public Health
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Springfield, Illinois 62761
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