Bats may be packing rabies in BC

Barriere resident bitten by bat that tested positive for the rabies virus

Interior Health (IH) is asking the public to be mindful of any bats they may come across while enjoying outside activities; or may find within buildings, barns, or other enclosed areas.

Public Health Nurse, Crystal Wadlegger says IH is extending a friendly reminder during the summer for people to be aware that they should not touch or instigate contact with bats. Bats can fly into poorly sealed cabins and homes, or roost in attic spaces.  Bats are the primary carrier of the rabies virus in B.C., and while not every bat is a carrier, between four and eight per cent of the bats that are tested after coming into contact with people are found to have the rabies virus.

One unlucky Barriere resident was recently bitten by a bat that later tested positive for the rabies virus.

Wadlegger says that last year, 24 people in the region were treated for potential exposure to rabies.  Treatment, involves a two week long period of vaccinations, and is most effective when administered as soon as possible after exposure.  Without treatment to prevent its onset, rabies is almost always fatal.

Because bats have tiny sharp teeth and claws, their scratches or bites are not always visible and in some cases it can take weeks or even months for symptoms to appear.  Early treatment is essential to prevent the disease from progressing.

Interior Health offers these tips to protect yourself:

• Do not touch live or dead bats.

• Make your home or cabin ‘bat proof’.  Keep doors and windows closed, make sure window screens don’t have any holes, and keep the attic area free of bats by keeping all vents properly screened and by closing off other openings.

• If you find a live bat in a room of your home, open the window and close interior doors until the bat leaves.

• If you have a pet dog, cat or ferret, make sure they are vaccinated regularly against rabies.  Pets that were born and raised in B.C. pose a very low risk of transmitting rabies to humans; however, vaccinating your pets will protect them from rabies.

If you have been bitten or scratched;

• Thoroughly wash the wounds with soap and water.

• Contact your local Public Health Unit or family doctor immediately.

• Call a wildlife or pest control company to capture the bat.  If trying to capture the bat yourself, avoid contact by wearing leather gloves, a hat, long sleeves and pants.

• Safely contain the bat in a secure covered container to prevent others from being exposed, and keep the bat in a safe location until Public Health can arrange to pick it up and test it for rabies.

For more information visit www.healthlinkbc.ca/healthfiles/hfile07.stm.