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Bats And Rabies.

Bats are a beneficial species. They are an important part of any local ecosystem, with some species eating significant numbers of potential agricultural pests such as beetles and moths. Mosquitoes represent a meager meal for most bat species, since mosquitoes prefer cover and are not readily available for hunting bats. While the conservation message is a good one, bats are a protected species in Michigan, bats can carry rabies and are a significant source of potential rabies exposure in humans. With human rabies cases being rare in the U.S., with an average of 2-3 cases documented each year, the vast majority of these cases in recent years have been caused by rabies associated with bats. It is estimated that, 40,000 people each year receive rabies post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP), many of these following the exposure to bats. Some of these treatments can be avoided if the bat can be collected and tested for rabies.

Bats are the animal most often found to be rabid in Michigan. Rabies has been detected in bats throughout the state. The percentage of bats that test positive is thought to be less than 1%. An average of 6% of the bats tested at the Michigan Department of Community Health's Bureau are positive for rabies.

In many of the human rabies cases caused by a bat-stain of the virus, there was no known history of a bite from a bat. For that reason, bats represent a special concern. Bats have very small teeth, and a bite from a bat may not be felt. Other situations that might qualify as exposures include finding a bat in the same room as a person who may be unaware that contact has occurred, such as finding a bat in the room with a sleeping person, a child, or someone who is mentally disabled or intoxicated. If you think you may have been exposed to rabies from a bat, please DO NOT LET THE BAT GO. In these instances, you should safely collect the bat until the need for rabies testing has been evaluated. Wearing leather gloves, place a coffee can or box over the bat, then use a piece of cardboard with holes punched in it to slide under the can or box. Or call your local bat removal specialist to come assist you in the safe and humane capture.

Contact your local health department or animal control agency to discuss the need for testing. If the bat tests negative for the presence of the rabies virus, then no treatment for the exposed is required. If the bat tests positive for rabies, or the bat is not available for testing then the exposed person should receive rabies vaccination (PEP). Rabies infection is preventable if treatment begins soon after exposure to the virus. Contact your local health department for help in determining the need for rabies (PEP).

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