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Health dept. issues bat warning

Published: Wednesday, June 26, 2013 2:57 p.m. CST • Updated: Wednesday, June 26, 2013 3:16 p.m. CST

PRINCETON — Disease-carrying mosquitoes aren’t the only animal-related concern facing Illinois residents during the summer months.

On Thursday, Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) Director Dr. LaMar Hasbrouck released a statement urging Illinois residents to be aware of bats which have started to become more active, which means the possibility of exposure to rabies is also increasing. So far this year, the IDPH has already had eight bats test positive for rabies, Hasbrouck said.

“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,” Hasbrouck. “Instead, call your local animal control agency for its recommendations on how to handle the animal.”

On Monday, Bureau/Putnam County Health Department’s Director of Health Protection Kurt Kuchle said bats are usually found in attics or in the soffit area around the roof of buildings. Bats do fly in open doors and windows. Most people who bring in bats for testing have found them in a bedroom or living area, Kuchle said.

A bat found in the room of a sleeping child or any other person is considered an exposure and those bats are recommended to be tested, if they are caught, just to be sure the person was not exposed to a rabid bat, Kuchle said. Obviously, bites need to be tested, he said.

“If you are bit or meet the definition of exposure and the bat is not caught, you have to take the treatment for rabies,” Kuchle said. “Rabies is still pretty much 100 percent fatal.”

If persons think they might have bats around their house, they should walk around the house at dawn or dusk and see if they can spot bats leaving or entering through any unseen openings around the roof or any part of the house, Kuchle said. Those openings need to be repaired, he said.

As far as detecting bats, Kuchle said bats fly singly or in groups and they flutter and like to swoop down on insects. Their flight is usually at dusk and is unique and easy to spot, he said.

As far as getting bats out of the house. Kuchle said people can usually open some doors and windows and the bats will eco-locate their way out of the house, though that can take awhile. It’s best to call animal control or law enforcement to take care of the situation, he said.

Bats are endangered and there is white nose syndrome circulating which is killing a lot of bats, Kuchle said. Unfortunately, the health department does have to kill the bat when someone is bitten or meets the definition of being exposed, he said.

According to IDPH director Hasbrouck, 63 bats tested positive for rabies in 2012 in Illinois, which is about 4 percent of all bats tested in 2012, which is average in Illinois. However, any wild mammal, such as raccoons, skunks, foxes, coyotes and bats, can have rabies and transmit it to humans, he said.

An animal does not have to be aggressive or exhibit other symptoms to have rabies, Hasbrouck said. 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, he said.

Kuchle agreed, saying the standard procedure for all wild animals is that people should always avoid them and call animal control or law enforcement.

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