Get Treatment Immediately
“I woke up to a squeaking sound and to my horror found a bat biting my leg.” Unfortunately, not everyone is as lucky as this Erie resident; she knew to get treatment. Nineteen of the 21 people who have died in the US from bat rabies between 1980 and 2006 never knew or reported that they were bitten. The fact that a person can be scratched or even bitten without feeling this minor trauma to the skin is what makes exposure to bats so dangerous. This is why the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends a “better safe than sorry” approach for this fatal disease. A person who has had a known or potential scratch or bite from a bat should receive preventive vaccine and rabies immune globulin (RIG). Potential situations include: presence of a bat in a room with a small unattended child, a mentally disabled or impaired person, or a person who has been sleeping.
Know When You Need Rabies Shots
There is no need for “rabies shots” if the bat can be caught and tests negative for the rabies virus. The Erie County Department of Health (ECDH) can assist anyone who needs to get a wild animal or a sick domestic animal tested for rabies, after it has bitten or scratched a person. All such occurrences should be reported to the ECDH Intake Nurse at 814-451-6700.
Prevent Bats In Your Home
The best approach is to prevent the exposure in the first place. During summer and autumn seasons most of the nearly 150 bat exposures a year are reported to ECDH. Older homes with small openings around the attic or windows without screens offer easy access for bats. For in-depth instructions from Penn State University on bat-proofing your home: see “animal bites” at www.ecdh.org. A home owner may need to seek the services of a wildlife pest control specialist. Preventing exposures to wildlife such as bats, raccoons, foxes, skunks, and groundhogs is especially important due to a vaccine shortage that is predicted by the manufacturers throughout the next year.
How Many Rabies Cases Are There?
In 2007 there were five positive tests for animal rabies in Erie County: two raccoons and three bats. During the same time period, 274 raccoons tested positive for the rabies virus in Pennsylvania. In an effort to reduce the incidence of raccoon rabies, ECDH in cooperation with the US Department of Agriculture Wildlife Service has distributed Oral Rabies Vaccine (ORV) baits each year since 2001. Hand baiting is complete for 2008. Aerial baiting will take place the week of August 25-29. The baits are brown sachets containing vaccine that are dropped from low flying aircraft. This vaccine is only effective in raccoons; if your pet should happen to eat one it will not cause it any harm, but it will not vaccinate them for rabies either.
Protect Your Pets
It is still crucial that pet owners keep their cats and dogs up to date on their rabies vaccine. This is a most effective measure each household can do to protect their family from rabies. Together the Erie County Department of Health and its citizens can lower the risk of being exposed to rabies.