2018-08-23 / Local News

Two bats in county test positive for rabies

By Amy Hubbell
Of The Enterprise staff

Four people in the Benzie-Leelanau District Health (BLDHD) Department are being treated with rabies vaccine after exposure to bats that tested positive for rabies.

“The most important thing you can do if you find a (sick) bat in your home, or somewhere else that exposure may have occurred, is to safely capture the bat and call the health department,“ said Michelle Klein, director of personal health for the Benzie-Leelanau District Health Department.

Four bats within the two-county area — two from Leelanau, two from Benzie County — have tested positive for rabies in the past month. Sixteen bats were sent downstate for testing. Klein declined to say where due to medical privacy law, adding that they weren’t concentrated in a specific location.

“We’re busier this year and are getting several calls a day about bats,” Klein said.

Years ago, treatment for rabies included 21 injections into a person’s stomach. It was extremely painful and involved a long needle. However, since the early 1980s, there’s a much different rabies vaccine to treat humans for rabies exposure.

“It’s four shots over a two-week period and is like getting a flu shot in the arm,” Klein said. “The first visit, patients also get a dose of immunoglobulin, which helps neutralize the virus.”

Still, it’s very important to capture the bat after exposure.

“Not a lot of humans get rabies. For those who do, it’s 100 percent fatal,” Klein said. “It’s not something you want to mess with.”

To capture a bat, Klein suggested waiting until it lands, then approach slowly and place a cardboard box or can over it. Slide a piece of cardboard under the container, trapping the bat inside. Securely tape the cardboard to the container.

If possible, wear leather gloves when attempting to capture the bat. Then call the health department, from which you will receive additional instructions.

“If we are not able to test the bat for rabies, we recommend that anyone who may have been exposed begin rabies vaccinations,” she said. “This is a fatal disease, so we don’t want to take chances if we aren’t sure about exposure.”

She offered several steps families can take to prevent exposures to rabies. These are:

 Bats found in the home should not be released until instructed to do so by the health department or animal control.

 Keep pets up-to-date on rabies vaccinations.

 If you pet is bitten by a wild animal or exposed to a bat, contact your veterinarian — event if rabies vaccinations are up-to-date.

 Don’t touch, feed, or unintentionally attract wild animals with open garbage or litter.

 Teach children to never handle unfamiliar animals, even if they appear friendly.

 Maintain homes and other buildings so that bats cannot get inside.

Further information is available by calling 256-0200.

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