|August 16, 2004||Rabies Information Web site|
PUBLIC ADVISED TO AVOID CONTACT
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. Due to continuing evidence that bats are the primary carrier of rabies in Illinois, Dr. Eric E. Whitaker, state public health director, today reminded the public to avoid contact with bats.
"Typically in August and September, bats become more active and contact with humans is a greater possibility," Dr. Whitaker said. "It is best never to approach a bat and, if found in a home or building, people should leave the bat alone and contact an animal control agency or local public health department for assistance in removing it."
Dr. Whitaker said so far this year 24 bats have tested positive for rabies in Illinois, and the Department and local health departments have responded to numerous calls from people describing encounters with bats and asking for advice. In one incident, a group of McHenry County teenagers rescued a bat floundering in a swimming pool and had extensive physical contact with it. The bat tested positive for rabies and the teens are now receiving rabies vaccine.
"While our natural instinct is to befriend or help bats or other animals that appear friendly or are injured, stray and wild animals should be avoided," Dr. Whitaker said. "Children especially should be warned against petting or trying to assist a 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. Without anti-rabies treatment, rabies is a fatal disease.
Since 1992, bats have been the predominant animal in Illinois to test positive for rabies. The last animal in the state, other than a bat, found to be positive for rabies was a skunk in 1998.
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 during the 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 more likely than others to be rabid. Such bats are often the most easily approached, but should never be handled.
Over the past century, rabies incidence in the country has changed dramatically. More than 90 percent of all animal cases reported annually now occur in wildlife, while before 1960 the most were in domestic animals. There is an average of one or two cases of rabies in the United States each year, but no human cases have occurred in Illinois since 1954.
Dr. Whitaker offered the following tips to prevent the spread of rabies:
Be a responsible pet owner:
Avoid direct contact with unfamiliar animals:
of Public Health
535 West Jefferson Street
Springfield, Illinois 62761
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