Of 22 rabid animals detected in Erie County in 2021, 18 were bats
Submitted by the Erie County Department of Health
Bat Week is observed each year from Oct. 24-31, leading up to Halloween. The Erie County Department of Health is using this opportunity to remind residents of how important it is to “keep the bat” if they find one in their house or apartment.
When temperatures dip, bats can seek warmer shelter in places like attics. Bats inside a home increase the risk of human contact with a bat and, with it, the potential for exposure to rabies. Healthy bats will avoid contact with humans and other animals. Bats infected with rabies can lose their ability to fly and can be found on the ground or in water, where people or pets may encounter them. Bats with rabies are often disoriented, increasing the likelihood that they end up inside a dwelling by accident.
The rabies virus affects the nervous system of humans and other mammals. Bites, scratches or saliva exposure from an infected animal can transmit rabies to a human or pet. These bites and scratches from a bat’s tiny teeth and claws may not be seen or felt. Special care should be taken if a person or pet has been sleeping in a room with a bat, especially children and people with intellectual, developmental or physical disabilities.
“Our environmental health and epidemiology staff are very experienced in dealing with potential rabies exposures,” Commissioner of Health Dr. Gale Burstein said. “Anyone who has direct contact with a wild animal, any sort of animal bite, or who has been in a room with a bat while sleeping – call our department at 716-961-6800. We have experience with thousands of potential rabies exposures, and can guide you through the steps to protect your health from this deadly disease.”
When bats and other potentially rabid wildlife are captured intact, ECDOH can send it to the New York State Department of Health’s Wadsworth Center for testing at no cost to residents. If that animal is found to have rabies, or if the animal cannot be captured, ECDOH makes recommendations for “post exposure prophylaxis” (PEP).
PEP is a series of four or five doses of rabies vaccine along with immunoglobulin that, when given in time, is a highly effective way to prevent an individual from developing rabies. The rabies virus is 100% fatal to humans if a post-exposure treatment is not given, is not given correctly or is given too late. Post exposure immunizations can be avoided if the bat tests negative for rabies.
Thankfully, deaths in humans from rabies are incredibly rare in the United States, thanks to consistent public health efforts to vaccinate pets, distribute oral rabies vaccine for wildlife, and skillful surveillance and case investigations to administer PEP to people with a potential exposure. ECDOH coordinates PEP for exposed people with no out-of-pocket costs.
Raccoons, foxes and skunks are also presumed to have rabies in New York state. Any mammal can carry and transmit rabies. In Erie County, woodchuck, cats, cattle, sheep, deer, beavers and a dog have been found to have rabies in the past three decades.
“Never release a live bat or throw out a dead bat that has had, or could have had, direct contact with a person or pet, unless ECDOH tells you that testing is not necessary,” said Peter Tripi, senior public health sanitarian and manager of the rabies and vector control program.
People who have frequent contact with warm-blooded animal saliva or bodily fluids, such as those who work in veterinary clinics, animal grooming or agriculture, should talk to their health care provider about preexposure vaccination as a precaution.
What To Do if There is a Bat in Your House or Apartment
√ Do not let the bat get outside. Call the Erie County Department of Health immediately at 716-961-6800. If it is after regular business hours, call 716-961-7898.
√ If professional help is not available, capture the bat safely as described below. You will need leather or very thick work gloves (put them on), a small box or coffee can, a piece of cardboard, and tape.
√ When the bat lands, move slowly toward it.
√ While wearing the gloves, put the box or coffee can over the bat.
√ Then, slide the cardboard under the container to trap the bat inside.
√ Tape the cardboard to the container, and punch small holes in the cardboard, allowing the bat to breathe.
√ Immediately call the Erie County Department of Health at 716-961-6800. If it is after regular business hours, call 716-961-7898.
√ Erie County Department of Health, vector control: https://www2.erie.gov/health/index.php?q=vector-control-program
√ ECDOH, “There’s a bat in my house, what do I do?”: https://www2.erie.gov/health/index.php?q=there-bat-my-house-what-should-i-do