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posted on June 04, 2012 08:27

A bat from southwest Idaho tested positive for rabies last week, prompting public health officials to warn people throughout the state to take precautions around bats and make sure that their dogs, cats, ferrets, and horses are adequately vaccinated against rabies. This is the first report of a rabid bat in the State this summer. 

Bats play an important role in our environment. While most bats are harmless and do not carry rabies, they are the only animal in Idaho that is a natural reservoir for the virus. Idaho averages approximately 15 rabid bat reports a year.

Rabies is a fatal viral illness in humans and other animals. Household pets and other animals can become exposed to the virus by playing with sick bats that can no longer fly normally. This is why it is important for people to make sure that their animals are vaccinated against rabies.  

“It is extremely important for people to avoid bats or other wild animals that appear sick or are acting aggressively or abnormally,” says Dr. Leslie Tengelsen, Deputy State Epidemiologist. “People should call their health care provider immediately if they have been bitten or scratched by a bat. Medical therapy administered to people after an animal bite is extremely effective in preventing rabies.”

People usually come in contact with bats through a pet bringing home a sick or dead bat, or by a bat entering their homes through small openings or open windows. People who wake up from sleeping and find a bat in their room might have had an exposure without realizing it: the teeth of a bat are very small and people are sometimes bitten in their sleep without feeling it. The bat should be tested for rabies if there is any question that an exposure may have occurred.

To protect yourself and your pets, the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare offers the following tips:

  • Do not touch a bat with your bare hands;
  • If you have had contact with a bat or wake up to find a bat in your room, seek medical advice immediately; 
  • If you come in contact with a bat, save the bat in a container without touching it and call your public health district to arrange testing of the bat for rabies. Whenever possible, the bat should be tested to rule out an exposure to rabies; this is a free service;
  • Always vaccinate your dogs, cats, ferrets, and  horses—even indoor pets could be exposed to a bat that has gotten into the house; and
  • Bat-proof your home or cabin by plugging all holes in the siding and maintaining tight-fitting screens on windows.

For further information call your Public Health District.  Information on rabies can be found at the following website: www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dvrd/rabies/. For information about bat-proofing your home, see http://www.cdc.gov/rabies/bats/management/index.html

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(Editors: For more information please contact Public Information Officer Tom Shanahan at 208-334-0668 or shanahat@dhw.idaho.gov.)