Rabies found in 2 bats
Health officials warn of contact
SEP 20 1987
By JANET COHEN
NEWS STAFF REPORTER
Washtenaw County health officials are warning people not to handle bats in the wake of two confirmed rabies cases involving bats in the last week.
Wildlife rabies occurs here from time to time, but it is unusual to find two rabid animals in a row, said Barry Johnson, director of environmental health for the Washtenaw County Health Department.
“We’ve had a few in the past, but not two in seven days,” he said.
One bat was found flopping in a yard in Dexter Township and one crawling on a Scio Township screen door in broad daylight. Both were turned over to the health department Eifter people noticed the strange behavior.
“If you can catch it, of course it is sick,” Johnson said.
Since 1975, no more than two cases of bat rabies have been confirmed in any year in Washtenaw County, said Byron Berlin, a coordinating physician and rabies expert with the Michigan Department of Public Health’s disease control division. Statewide, about 5 percent of the bats submitted for analysis have rabies.
Any time a bat turns up on the-ground in the daytime, there’s reason to question whether it is normal. The animal should be tested for rabies if it has bitten or scratched a pet or a person, said Tom Cooley, a wildlife biologist at the state Department of Natural Resources’ Wildlife Research Center in Rose Lake.
The rabies virus is harbored in saliva and is most often transmitted to humans via animal bites.
Anyone who has been bitten should seek medical attention immediately because rabies is almost always deadly, Berlin said. Not everyone who is exposed will develop the disease, but without preventative treatment, at least 60 percent do, according to some studies.
The treatment consists of a series of shots that boost a person’s resistance to the virus, but the l shots must be administered during the incubation period before the onset of symptoms, Berlin added.
Bats are the most common rabies carrier in Michigan, followed by skunks, Cooley said. So far this year, the state health department has reported 21 bat rabies cases and four skunk cases. In 1986, the agency reported 18 rabid bats and two skunks. There were also two cases reported in captive animals - a fox and a raccoon.
“The bat has a lot of positive things about it. It eats insects and lots of mosquitos, but it is the prime species for us for rabies,” Cooley said.
The two recent Washtenaw County cases are “not a fluke” but are also not reason for undue alarm, Berlin said. “There’s a fair amount of rabies in Michigan and bats are the principal reservoir. People should let the bats alone,” he said.
To avoid exposure, the county health department recommends the following additional precautions.
■ Leave all wild animals alone.
■ Parents should warn children' not to handle bats and avoid provoking stray animals. If a bat appears sick or injured, parents should kill it, pick it up with gloves or tongs, put it in a plastic bag, and dispose of it in the garbage.
■ Check rabies vaccinations for dogs and cats to be sure they are up to date.
■ Report bites of skunks, raccoons, cats, dogs, foxes and bats to the health department, 994-2492. If you need to report an incident outside normal working hours, call the sheriff’s department.
■ Prevent bats from roosting in your house.