The Kansas Departments of Health and Environment and Wildlife, Parks and Tourism have had an increase in the number of calls recently from residents who have questions about bats in their homes. Experts from the state agencies encourage Kansans to be aware of the rabies risk associated with exposure to bats.
“Although only three percent of about 1,000 bats tested over the last five years were positive for rabies in Kansas, they remain an important cause of human rabies cases in the United States,” State Public Health Veterinarian Dr. Ingrid Garrison said, “Contact with bats is a concern because their teeth are so tiny that a bite may not be felt or even leave a noticeable mark. That is why it is important to speak with someone who can evaluate your situation for potential exposure to rabies.”
According to Barton County Health Director Shelly Schneider, more bats have been seen, but there have been no reported cases of rabies from bats. More mosquitoes in the area seems to draw more bats.
“Bats are always something to look out for; they are a vector for rabies,” Scheider said. “They are very stealthy mammals, if one is in your house you might not even know it and you could brush up against in it or even be scratched by it and never know it. If you see a bat, never touch it with bare hands. Call animal control you help remove the bat.”
According to KDHE, rabies is a fatal viral disease in mammals, including people. Infection with the rabies virus can occur from a bite by a rabid animal or when saliva from a rabid animal comes into contact with the eyes, inside the mouth, or a fresh, open wound. In Kansas, skunks are the animal that most commonly tests positive for rabies.
“We see an increase in bat activity, usually in July and August, as baby bats learn to fly,” ecologist Samantha Pounds said. “Of the more than 1,000 species of bats around the world, 15 have been found in Kansas. Bats play a vital role in the Kansas ecosystem by consuming millions of insects each year, including agricultural pests and mosquitoes. They can eat one-half of their body weight in insects each night. However, some bats may also be infected with rabies. We want people to be aware of bats, but not afraid of them,”
It is best to exclude bats from your home in the early spring or fall, when they are not roosting (giving birth and raising young). Young bats that are not able to fly can get trapped inside, which can lead to an upset mother bat or foul-smelling dead bat. Bats often enter homes through unsealed cracks, gaps or small holes, so filling in these entry points is one way to keep bats out of a home. Another method is to use an exclusion tube or small piece of mesh to create a one-way exit for bats living in an attic. Professional help to exclude or capture bats may be available in your area.
KDHE asks that you call your health care provider or local health department if you have had any contact with a bat, if a bat is found in the room of a sleeping person, unattended child, or anyone who is unable to tell you about the encounter. If possible, the bat should be captured safely and not released. Tips for safely capturing a bat can be found on the Bat Conservation International website at www.batcon.org. If the bat is not available for rabies testing, the person who was exposed to the bat should seek medical care and receive rabies prevention shots.