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Bats generally – and unfairly – get a bad rap where the deadly viral disease rabies is concerned. Yes, bats in Ohio can contract and transmit the dreaded disease through a bat bite. The disease impacts the central nervous system. Other infected mammals like dogs, skunks, and raccoons are equally capable of transmitting the virus through a bite or scratch. However, unlike a bat bite, these wounds are visible. Bats can transmit rabies to people – without an obvious bite. Bat bites can go undetected because their teeth are very small. This is what makes encounters with bats in a bedroom or home so emotional. Are you certain you were not bitten?
If you are not sure, you need to catch that bat! If you wake up with a bat in your bedroom, seek medical attention. Unless that particular bat is captured and tested, we find that physicians recommend post exposure vaccinations. How to catch a bat in the house – Video.
The potentially fatal disease can also be passed to humans if a rabid animal’s saliva enters an open wound or comes in contact with a mucus membrane. The virus then travels through the nerves (as opposed to the bloodstream) and reaches the brain in a period of weeks or months. Surviving the disease depends upon prompt medical attention upon initial contact.
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Contrary to popular rumors, you should know that not all bats are carrying rabies. Actually, only a small number of bats contract the disease, and they are as susceptible as any other mammal. Rabies is as lethal to bats as it is to humans. Fortunately, help is available. Remember that all potential rabies exposures must be taken seriously. Please consult quickly with your physician for medical guidance.
According to the Ohio Department of Health Web site: “Most of the human rabies cases acquired within the U.S. during the past 20 years were due to bat-strains of rabies. 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. If exposure occurred, the bat should be safely captured and submitted for testing.”
Should you wake up in your bedroom with a bat nearby, seek medical guidance from a physician. Unless the bat is safely captured and tested, physicians typically opt for the “better safe than sorry” approach and recommend post-exposure vaccinations. Once symptoms of the disease appear, it is too late.
Bats and Rabies – Scientific Studies
Researchers at Indiana State University conducted one of the longest studies on the incidence of rabies in mid-western bats. The study was concluded in 2003, and covered a span of 38 years. During that time, 5,584 big brown bats were evaluated for rabies with 3.1 percent testing positive. Peak months for rabies in this species was October. It’s important to note that the sampled population was biased in that many of the bats were impaired and easier to locate (sick, dying or found on the ground). In other words, many bats that were suspected to be infected with rabies were not infected. The study acknowledges that a better estimate of the actual incidence of rabies in nature is likely to be less than 1 percent. That said, take all suspected bat bites seriously and contact your physician for medical advice.
Source: Whitaker and Douglas. Bat Rabies in Indiana