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Health Unit Raises Awareness about Bats and Rabies

July 27, 2020

Approximately three percent of bats carry the rabies virus. The most common signs of rabies in bats are the inability to fly and resting in unusual places such as the ground or floor. It is important to remember many of the bats that get into our homes are healthy bats and are looking for a way out.

Bats are nocturnal animals and feed most actively two to three hours following sunset. They are efficient pest controllers as they consume three times their body weight in insects per night. Bats select attics for nursery colonies, however, during the day they roost in trees and in buildings. Bats are usually born in June. Nests are not required as the young are able to fly and obtain their own food within three weeks. Hibernation occurs between November and March. Some species typically hibernate in attics of buildings while others prefer caves.

Diseases Bats May Carry

Bats do have the potential to carry diseases such as rabies and histoplasmosis, which can affect humans and animals. They may also transmit distemper and mange to household pets.

  • Rabies is a disease caused by a virus that attacks the central nervous system, and is found in the saliva of infected animals. Rabies is fatal if left untreated.
  • Histoplasmosis is a disease caused by a fungus that grows in soil contaminated with bat or bird droppings. Exposure to the fungus occurs when the soil is disturbed. The disease primarily affects the lungs and can be fatal if left untreated. If you are cleaning areas where bat droppings have accumulated be sure to wear a protective mask and gloves and keep dust to a minimum.

Bat Encounters

Bat exposures: If a bat is carrying the rabies virus, there is a risk of it being transmitted to an individual when both the following conditions apply:

  • There has been direct contact with a bat – direct contact with a bat is defined as the bat touching or landing on a person; 

AND

  • A bite, scratch, or saliva exposure into a wound or mucous membrane. If you are bitten by a bat or if saliva from a bat gets into your eyes, nose, mouth or a wound, wash the affected area thoroughly and get medical attention immediately. If the bat is available, the Health Unit can arrange for it to be tested for rabies.

In a child, any direct contact with a bat (i.e., the bat landing on or touching the child, including contact through clothes) could be considered a reason for vaccine administration, as a child may not be able to reliably communicate the encounter with the bat to determine the type of the contact (i.e., a bite, scratch or mucous membrane exposure).

If you have experienced a bat encounter and/or may have been bitten, contact 1-800-660-5853 or on weekends call 613-345-5685.

Bat Proofing Your Home

Bat proofing your house is necessary when the bats are entering the living space of your home. It is advisable to contact a pest management company or a wildlife conservation agency for assistance with bat-proofing your home.

If you find a bat in your home and there was no human or animal contact, the bat can be released to the outdoors. Wear thick gloves when handling the bat to avoid being bitten.

Rabies can also affect pets; to protect your pet from rabies it is important to vaccinate them. Rabies vaccination is mandatory in Ontario for domestic cats and dogs. The organizing of low-cost rabies vaccination clinics is another service that will be affected this year by the presence of COVID-19 in our communities. It will be difficult to maintain a physical distance and therefore it was decided to cancel the clinics this September. If you had your dog or cat vaccinated last year or want to inquire about getting or updating rabies vaccinations for your pets, you should speak with a local vet. Vaccinating your pets against rabies is important; it is also the law.

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Contact

For media interviews, contact: Susan Healey, Communications Co-ordinator, Leeds, Grenville and Lanark District Health Unit at susan.healey@healthunit.org or call 613-802-0550.