State Public Health Director Warns People to Avoid Contact with Bats
Dozens of people already reporting exposure to bats
SPRINGFIELD – Dr. LaMar Hasbrouck, state public health director, is reminding people to avoid contact with bats as this is the time of year when bats are the most active and health officials see the most bat exposures.
“The Illinois Department of Public Health and local health departments throughout the state have already received numerous phone calls this summer about people being exposed to bats,” Dr. Hasbrouck said. “It is best never to approach a bat and, if found in a home or building, people should leave the bat alone and call their local public health department or their animal control office for assistance or instructions about removing it.”
Bats are the primary carrier of rabies in Illinois and already this year, 52 bats have tested positive for rabies in 24 counties. In 2011, 51 bats tested positive for rabies in Illinois.
Rabies is a virus that affects the nervous system of humans and other mammals. Humans can get rabies after being bitten by an infected animal. Rabies can also be contracted when saliva from a rabid animal gets directly into a person’s eyes, nose, mouth or a wound. People usually know when they have been bitten by a bat, but bats have very small teeth and the bite mark may not be easy to see. If you find yourself in close proximity to a bat and are not sure if you were exposed, for example – you wake up and find a bat in your room, do not kill or release the bat before calling your doctor or local health department to help determine if you could have been exposed to rabies and need preventive treatment.
Any wild mammal such as a raccoon, skunk, fox, coyote or bat, can have rabies and transmit it to humans. An animal does not have to be aggressive or exhibit other symptoms to have rabies. Changes in any animal’s normal behavior, such as difficulty walking or an overall appearance of illness, can be early signs of rabies. For example, skunks are normally nocturnal and avoid contact with people, but a rabid skunk may approach humans during daylight hours. A bat that is active during the day, found on the ground or is unable to fly, is more likely than others to be rabid. Such bats are often easily approached, but should never be handled.
“Children should be warned against petting or trying to assist a wild or unfamiliar animal. While our natural instinct may be to help or befriend bats or other animals that appear friendly or are injured, these animals can carry rabies and should be avoided,” said Connie Austin, state public health veterinarian.
The following tips can help prevent the spread of rabies:
Information about preventing bats from entering a building may be found at www.idph.state.il.us/envhealth/pcbats.htm.
For more information about rabies, log onto the Illinois Department of Public Health website at www.idph.state.il.us/health/infect/reportdis/rabies.htm.
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