Some people think they are cute and others find them creepy.
Whether you are fascinated or fearful, the bottom line is it’s important to avoid coming into physical contact with bats, the primary carrier of the rabies virus in British Columbia.
Between four and eight per cent of the bats that are tested after coming into contact with people are found to have the rabies virus. Infected bats can transmit rabies to humans when their saliva comes into contact with a person’s mucus membranes (eyes, nose or mouth) or through a break in the skin.
Rabies is a very serious disease that affects the nervous system. It is almost always fatal if not treated in time. Last year, 32 people in the Interior Health region were treated for potential exposure to rabies.
“We want to remind people to be careful around bats,” says Jennifer Jeyes, communicable disease specialist with Interior Health. “Bats often fly into poorly sealed cabins and homes, they roost in attic spaces and they can even be found hanging inside closed patio umbrellas.”
Interior Health offers these tips to help protect yourself and your family:
• Never touch live or dead bats. Tell children not to play with or touch bats.
• Make your home or cabin “bat proof.” Keep doors and windows closed, make sure window screens don’t have any holes, and keep the attic area free of bats by keeping all vents properly screened and by closing off other openings.
• If you find a live bat in a room of your home, open the window and close interior doors until the bat leaves.
• Seek professional bat-control advice (from a pest control or wildlife specialist) if your home or workplace or is inhabited by bats.
• Avoid locations or activities where bats are likely to be found (e.g., caves).
• If you have a pet dog, cat or ferret, make sure they are vaccinated regularly against rabies. Pets that were born and raised in B.C. pose a very low risk of transmitting rabies to humans; however, vaccinating your pets will protect them from rabies.
If you have been bitten or scratched:
• Thoroughly wash the wounds with soap and water.
• Contact your local public health unit or family doctor immediately.
• Call a wildlife or pest control company to capture the bat. If trying to capture the bat yourself, avoid contact by wearing leather gloves, a hat, long sleeves, and pants.
• Safely contain the bat in a secure covered container to prevent others from being exposed. Keep the bat in a safe location until public health can arrange to pick it up and test it for rabies.
“All contact with bats should be taken seriously. Bats have tiny sharp teeth and claws, so scratches or bites may not be visible or painful, but could still be there,” says Jeyes.
“Anyone who has come into contact with a live or dead bat should call their local public health unit or doctor right away. Do not wait for symptoms to appear.”
Early treatment is crucial to prevent rabies from progressing. Treatment involves a two-week period of vaccinations that must be administered as soon as possible after exposure.
For more information: see HealthLink BC File #07 at http://www.healthlinkbc.ca/healthfiles/hfile07.stm.