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K-State Today

September 28, 2017

Bats and rabies: What you need to know on World Rabies Day

Submitted by Division of Communications and Marketing

Thursday, Sept. 28, is World Rabies Day and the Kansas State Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, which conducts tests on suspected cases of rabies in the state of Kansas, reminds the public that this life-threatening disease is preventable with the proper education and action.

Though rabies deaths are uncommon in the United States, it is one of the world's most deadly diseases, resulting in as many as 70,000 human deaths worldwide each year. The primary source of human deaths from rabies in the U.S. is from bats, which are common to Kansas. According to the Kansas State Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory and health-related agencies:

• Bats can transmit rabies to humans and animals, and the transmission of rabies to humans primarily occurs from the bite of an infected bat — or other infected animal — through the saliva. Although additional routes of transmission from animals to humans occur, they are rare. While all mammals can contract and spread rabies, in the U.S., skunks, bats, raccoons, foxes and coyotes are the primary carriers.

• Because bats can be infected with rabies, never touch them. You can't tell if a bat has rabies by looking at it. After sighting a bat in a building, contact animal control, the police department or public health department for safe capture and possible testing if the bat shows signs of unusual behavior. If the bat is sighted in a rental property, contact the building manager or property owner so they can take proper action.

• If bitten by a bat — or any animal — seek medical attention. Bats have small teeth and bite marks may not be apparent as they can disappear quickly — within 30 minutes. It is important to take all bat bites seriously, regardless of size or sensitivity. If bitten by any animal, wash the wound aggressively for several minutes with soap and water, report the incident and seek medical advice immediately. While rabies has a mortality rate of 99.9 percent, it is 100 percent preventable in humans by wound care and vaccination.

• Even individuals who have possibly been exposed to rabies should see a doctor. Possible exposure includes when you might be unaware, such as during sleep, that a bite or direct contact had occurred. After a confirmed exposure, individuals need to get postexposure care. In cases of possible exposure, medical evaluation for need of postexposure treatment is required. Postexposure vaccinations, administered in the upper arm, are not particularly painful and allow you to continue in your daily activities. In addition, an injection of rabies immune globulin is given in the area around and into the wounds. Any remaining volume is injected into muscles at a site distant from vaccine administration.

• Bats are an important part of our ecosystem and they are wild animals. Bats most commonly roost in buildings, trees and caves, but they have been known to roost in less common areas such as under picnic tables and under umbrellas left in the outdoors. Bats hiss and make screeching sounds as a defense mechanism if they feel threatened. Although the majority of bats can take flight from the ground, a few species of bats have difficulties and people often mistake this behavior as being ill or rabid.

Read more information from the Riley County Health Department Rabies Public Health Guide, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Bat Conservation International or the Global Alliance for Rabies Control.