Bats and rabies are still a concern in winter, Wisconsin health officials say.
It may be midwinter, but people can still come in contact with bats and be exposed to rabies, according to Wisconsin health officials.
A rabid bat from northwest Wisconsin was diagnosed recently.
"It's uncommon to find a rabid bat so early in the year, but bats have been diagnosed with rabies in January in the past," said Dr. Jim Kazmierczak, Wisconsin State Public Health Veterinarian.
Although the majority of bats overwinter in caves and mines and become inactive, some may find shelter indoors and occasionally come into contact with people or pets, Dr. Kazmierczak said in a news release.
People cannot acquire rabies simply by being in the same room as a rabid bat if they know that they had no physical contact with the animal, Dr. Kazmierczak said.
A nick from a bat's tooth or claw, such as when the bat flies into someone's face or arm, is needed to transmit the rabies virus.
"If there is physical contact with a bat, there would be the potential for rabies transmission to occur, assuming the bat was rabid," he said.
In such a case, the exposed person may need to receive the preventive series of shots to prevent rabies.
Rabies is caused by a virus that attacks the nervous system of mammals, including humans.
Skunks and bats are the main carriers of the virus in Michigan. The Upper Peninsula is no stranger to bats or skunks.
Rabies is a fatal disease most often transmitted via the bite of an infected animal. If bitten by an infected animal, your only defense is the series of painful rabies shots.
The vaccinations are agonizing, but the disease is worse. There is no known cure once symptoms develop. In other words, death is inevitable.
A Jan. 26 basketball game in Milwaukee between Marquette University and Providence College was interrupted because a bat was flying around the court at the Bradley Center.
Both the Marquette and Providence basketball teams were questioned and no coaches or players reported any actual contact with the bat during the game. While no spectators reported being touched by the bat at the Bradley Center, Wisconsin public health officials urge those who think they may have been touched by the bat to contact their local public health department.
While most bats in nature do not carry rabies, 29 rabid bats were detected in Wisconsin during 2012, according to state health officials.
In Michigan, there were 61 cases of rabies reported, including eight skunks, 52 bats, and one fox. The only Upper Peninsula case was a rabid fox in Menominee County.
Thankfully, no rabid animals were reported in Dickinson County.
An animal exposed to the rabies virus may not develop the disease for two weeks, up to many months, Michigan Department of Agriculture officials said.
The rabies virus can be found in an animal's saliva days before any obvious signs make their appearance.
With this in mind, it is extremely important to take precautions when dealing with any wild or unfamiliar domestic animal.
To prevent rabies, officials recommend:
- Teach children never to handle unfamiliar animals, wild or domestic, even if they appear friendly. "Love your own, leave other animals alone" is a good principle for children to learn.
- Wash any wound from an animal thoroughly with soap and water and seek medical attention immediately.
- Have all dead, sick, or easily captured bats tested for rabies if exposure to people or pets occurs.
- Prevent bats from entering living quarters or occupied spaces in homes, churches, schools, and other similar areas where they might contact people and pets.
- Be a responsible pet owner by keeping vaccinations current for all dogs, cats, and ferrets, keeping your cats and ferrets inside and your dogs under direct supervision, calling animal control to remove stray animals from your neighborhood, and consider having your pets spayed or neutered.
- Never approach or handle wildlife.
- Do not approach or handle unfamiliar dogs or cats.
- Have dogs, cats, ferrets and horses vaccinated against rabies by a veterinarian.
- Consult your veterinarian about vaccinating sheep and cattle against rabies.
- If you are bitten by a wild animal (especially a bat, skunk, raccoon, or fox) or a dog, cat, ferret, or farm animal, contact your physician, local animal control agency, and local health department.
What is the truth about bats and rabies?
- Like most mammals, bats can contract rabies; however, the vast majority of bats are not infected, and even those that are normally bite only in self-defense and pose little threat to people who do not handle them. This is the number one reason to enforce the "look but don't touch" rule for all wildlife.
- In the United States from 1995 through 2009, an average of two people per year have died of rabies associated with bats. Rabies is readily prevented by post-contact vaccination.
- The fear of rabies is far disproportionate to the actual risk. To put the risk in perspective: about 386,000 Americans are treated for dog bites each year and about 16 people die from the attacks.