Wednesday, July 5, 2017

State health department warns about danger of getting rabies from wildlife, especially bats; says to never handle any bat

Bats in a home. Photo by Brian Carver,
Kentucky Department of Fish & Wildlife
By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

Public health officials are reminding Kentuckians about the dangers of rabies exposure from contact with infected wildlife.

“We want the public to understand that rabies is still a serious public health concern, and we need to do everything we can to prevent it,” Kelly Giesbrecht, state veterinarian with the state Department of Public Health, said in a news release. “It is extremely important that we vaccinate all dogs, cats and ferrets in order to maintain this invisible barrier between rabid wildlife and humans.”

The Lexington Herald-Leader has reported two stories about rabies in the last month. Morgan Eads reported that a bat found in a Lexington home tested positive for rabies, and Bill Estep reported that dozens of teen girls at a church camp in Harlan County were potentially exposed to rabies from bats in their cabin. One camper woke up with a bat on her, but Giesbrecht told Estep that there is no confirmation that any of the girls were bitten. Another state health official told Estep that 25 to 30 girls who were considered to be at higher risk, plus some whose parents were concerned, are being treated for the disease.

Rabies is a viral disease that is transmitted from animals to humans by the saliva of a rabid animal, usually from a bite. The virus cannot infiltrate intact skin.

State law requires all dogs, cats and ferrets to have a current rabies vaccination. The health department reports there have been no human rabies cases from exposure to a rabid dog in Kentucky since dog vaccinations became required in 1954.

In the U.S., rabies is most commonly spread by bats, raccoons, skunks, coyotes and foxes. Giesbrecht stressed that wildlife should not ever be handled or treated as pets to avoid exposure to rabies.

“Rabies is relatively rare in the U.S.,” said Giesbrecht, “but a dangerous, and often life-threatening condition, if contracted.”

The health department says bats are the most common source of rabies exposure to humans in the U.S., and a bat bite is so small, people don't always know that they have been bitten.

The department's website notes that any time a bat is found in the room of a sleeping person or in the room with an unattended child or near a mentally impaired or intoxicated person, medical advice should be sought and, if possible, the bat should be tested for rabies.

Home entryways for bats--most common source of rabies
image: Maryland Dept. of Natural Resources
Public health officials warn Kentuckians to never hold any bat. They also note that the most common ways for bats to enter homes are through chimneys, vents and openings behind shutters or under doors, siding, eaves and shingles.

The health department says the best time to seal any holes around your home that are larger than a quarter-inch by a half-inch is in the fall or winter so that any bats that might already be inside are not unintentionally trapped.

Symptoms of rabies can initially mimic the flu, including general weakness, fever and headache. A person can also have a strange sensations at the site of the bite from a rabid animal. These symptoms can progress within days to symptoms of anxiety, confusion and agitation. Further progression of the disease includes symptoms of hallucinations, insomnia and a fear of water, all of which are quickly followed by death, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Once a person begins to exhibit signs of the disease, survival is rare," says the CDC.

While rabies deaths in the U.S. are rare, an estimated 40,000 Americans are vaccinated against rabies every year after contact with a possible rabid animal. The CDC estimates that more than 59,000 people around the world die from rabies each year, about 95 percent of them in Asia and Africa.

If you have been bitten by an animal that you think could have rabies, wash the wound immediately with soap and water for at least 10 minutes and seek medical attention. If your physician decides you need a rabies vaccination, it should be given as soon as possible after exposure, says the CDC. All bites by mammals are required to be reported to the local health department.

Click here for more information about rabies in Kentucky.

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