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Summer means more concerns about bats and rabies

6/28/2016 by Dr. Robert Jacobson


Summertime hikes, picnics, outdoor sports, backyard exploring, trips to the lake, youth camps and more let us connect with nature. But they also put us at greater risk of connecting with wild animals, including some that may carry rabies.  

Rabies is a deadly virus spread to people from the saliva of infected animals and is usually transmitted through a bite. However, rabies also can be spread when the infected saliva gets into an open wound, eyes or mouth.  

In the United States, the animals most likely to transmit rabies include bats, coyotes, foxes, raccoons and skunks. However, any mammal (an animal that suckles its young) can transmit the rabies virus - even the family pet, if it's been bitten and infected without you knowing it. 

You can reduce your risk of coming in contact with rabid animals. Here's how: 

  • Vaccinate your pets. Cats, dogs and ferrets can be vaccinated against rabies. Ask your veterinarian how often your pets should be vaccinated. 
  • Keep your pets confined. Keep your pets inside and supervise them when outside. This will help you keep them - and you - from coming in contact with wild animals. 
  • Protect small pets from predators. Keep rabbits and other small pets, such as guinea pigs, inside or in protected cages so that they are safe from wild animals. Unfortunately, these pets can't be vaccinated against rabies. 
  • Report stray animals to local authorities. Call your local animal control officials or other local law enforcement to report stray dogs and cats. 
  • Don't approach wild animals. Critters, especially the babies, may be cute, but keep your distance. Wild animals with rabies may appear to be unafraid of people. It's not normal for them to be friendly, so stay away from any animal that seems unafraid. 
  • Keep bats out of your home. Seal any cracks and gaps where bats can enter your home. If you know you have bats in your home, work with a local expert to find ways to keep bats out. 
  • Consider the rabies vaccine if you're traveling. If you're traveling to a country where rabies is common, and you'll be there for a long period of time, ask your doctor whether you should receive the vaccine. 

If you've been bitten, you should seek immediate medical care. Based on your injuries and the situation, you and your care team can decide whether you should receive treatment. 

If a bat is in the room when you or a family member is sleeping, you may be bitten without it waking you up. In this case, and in every instance where a bat is near a person who cannot report a bite such as a small child or a person with a disability, assume that they've been bitten and seek medical assistance by contacting your care team. Don't depend on whether you see a bat bite mark. They are invisible. No one can tell. 

If you have had contact with a bat or have been bitten by an animal, immediately wash the wound thoroughly, but gently, with soap and generous amounts of water. If the animal that you came in contact with can be captured and contained without causing further injury, do so. However, do not kill the animal with a blow or shot to the head; the resulting injuries may make it difficult to perform laboratory tests to determine whether the animal has rabies. 

Click here for more information from Mayo Clinic on rabies. 

Dr. Robert M. Jacobson is a primary care pediatrician in Employee and Community Health's (ECH) Division of Community Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine (CPAM) and is the medical director of the ECH and Southeast Minnesota Region Immunization Program.