The Henry and Stark County Health Departments note with the warm summer months comes the increase in bat activity, which means the possibility of exposure to rabies is increasing. Bats are the primary carrier of rabies in Illinois. The Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) has already had 34 bats test positive for rabies this year.
According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, “You should never try to approach or catch a bat, or any wild animal, you find outside. Bats and wild animals that let people approach them are often not healthy. Instead, call your local animal control agency for its recommendations on how to handle the animal.”
It should be noted that typically less than 5 percent of bats tested for rabies are found to be rabid. In the bat population, as a whole, the percentage of rabid bats is much smaller – less than 1 percent. Also, any wild mammal, such as raccoons, skunks, foxes, coyotes and bats, can have rabies and transmit it to humans.
Health Department officials note, "Rabies is a virus that affects the nervous system. People can get rabies after being bitten by an infected animal. Rabies can also be contracted when saliva from a rabid animal gets directly into a person’s eyes, nose, mouth or a wound. People usually do not know when they have been bitten by a bat, as bats have very small teeth and the bite mark may not be easy to see. If you find yourself in close proximity to a bat and are not sure if you were exposed, for example – you wake up and find a bat in your room, do not kill or release the bat before calling your doctor or local health department to help determine if you could have been exposed to rabies and need preventive treatment. If the bat is available for testing and test results are negative, preventive treatment is not needed."
Without preventive treatment, rabies is typically fatal. If you have been bitten or have had direct contact with a bat, seek immediate medical attention. Treatment with rabies immune globulin and a vaccine series must begin quickly.
Health Department Communicable Disease staff add, "An animal does not have to be aggressive or exhibit other symptoms to have rabies. Changes in any animal’s normal behavior can be early signs of rabies. A bat that is active during the day, found on the ground or is unable to fly, is more likely than others to be rabid. Such bats are often easily approached, but should never be handled."