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DPHHS urges caution regarding rabies and bats

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

August 2, 2017

Contact:  Jon Ebelt, Public Information Officer, DPHHS, (406) 444-0936

                Chuck Council, Communications Specialist, DPHHS, (406) 444-4391 

DPHHS urges caution regarding rabies and bats

 Recent events impacting groups with potential bat exposures are prompting state and local public health officials to remind Montanans of the risk of bat exposures, especially at night when sleeping in an enclosed space where a bat is found. 

Public health officials recently assessed two situations where groups of people were potentially exposed to bats while they slept.

One situation occurred when one group stayed overnight in a gymnasium. Group members reported seeing bats on the walls and in the rafters above the area where they slept. Due to the risk, public health recommended vaccination (also known as rabies post exposure prophylaxis) to the exposed individuals. 

 In the second situation, a group of travelers to another country where bats were found in the sleeping area of their rustic cabin. However, in this situation, public health officials determined that no exposures were identified because mosquito netting would have prevented any bat contact with a sleeping individual. 

As a result of successful vaccination efforts of dogs and cats, transmission of rabies in the United States rarely occurs from a dog or cat bite. While rare, the majority of recent human rabies cases acquired in the United States have been related to bat exposures, many with no documented bite or contact with a bat. A recent human fatality in Wyoming in 2015 and Montana’s only two reported cases of human rabies, 1996 and 1997, followed this pattern.

Because bat bites inflicted by small, needle-like teeth can be difficult or impossible to detect, it is important to report potential bat exposures to a health care provider or public health officials for a risk assessment. Bats found in sleeping areas are a concern because sleeping people and small children may not be aware or are unable to report an exposure. “It is important to consult with health authorities if you find a bat in your home,” said Department of Public Health and Human Services communicable disease nurse Jen Fladager.

To avoid possible exposures, keep the following rabies prevention tips in mind:

  • Do not feed or handle wild animals, especially bats. Teach children never to touch wild animals or handle bats, even dead ones. Ask children to tell an adult if they see or find a bat.  
  • Vaccinate dogs and cats against rabies.  All dogs and cats should have a current rabies certificate.
  • Bat-proof your house.  Close all outside openings larger than 3/8” in the walls, roofs, and floors. Put screens on all windows, doors and chimneys to prevent bats from entering.
  • Watch for abnormal wild animal behavior. Most wild animals are not seen during the daytime. If you see one and it is acting strangely, leave it alone and contact your local health department or animal control agency.    

“We encourage local public health agencies and partners to share this information, particularly with groups that may be sleeping in ‘primitive’ conditions and the owner/operators of rustic establishments that may be frequented by bats this time of year,” said Fladager.

It may be possible to test the animal to rule out rabies and eliminate the need for treatment. Contact the local health department or animal control for assistance to safely capture bats for testing. 

More information on rabies in Montana can be found at: dphhs.mt.gov