Maine CDC offers tips to avoid rabies exposure from bats

Mon, 08/24/2020 - 9:45am
    The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (Maine CDC) urges Maine people to take steps to limit exposure to rabies during the time of year when bats are most active, which extends from August into early September. Maine CDC encourages people to be cautious around bats, enjoy them from a distance, and know what to do following an exposure to a bat.
    Bats play an important role in local ecosystems, but they can spread viruses such as rabies, which can be fatal in humans, pets, and livestock. Timely treatment following a rabies exposure is effective in preventing disease in humans. Human rabies cases are rare in the United States, and Maine last reported a human rabies case in 1937. However, the rabies virus is naturally found in Maine wildlife including bats, foxes, raccoons, and skunks. In 2019, bats accounted for 40 percent of the 644 animals submitted to the Maine state lab for rabies testing, with nine bats testing positive for rabies.
    The rabies virus spreads when infected mammals bite, and in some cases scratch, other mammals. Contact with an infected mammal's brain tissue or spinal cord can also transmit the virus to humans and pets. The virus is not transmitted in blood, urine, feces, skunk spray, or dried saliva. A rabid animal may show a variety of symptoms or no symptoms at all, so always be cautious around wildlife, including bats, or any animals you do not know.


    Bat Exposures

    A bat exposure includes bat bites, scratches, or handling a bat without gloves, but may also include awaking to a bat in the bedroom or finding a bat in a room with an unaccompanied child or incapacitated adult. For pets and livestock, this may include holding a bat in their mouths or being in the same area as the bat, such as a living room or barn.

    It may be difficult in some situations to tell if a bat exposed a person or domestic animal. Therefore, bat exposures should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis and always treated with caution.

    Contact your health care provider about any potential exposure. The following steps are recommended if you, someone under your care, or a pet is exposed to a bat.

    Trapping and Releasing Bats

    • Always attempt to capture the bat if you can safely do so.
    • Never handle a bat with your bare hands. Wear thick gloves, if available.
    • Put a container over the bat once it lands, then gently slide some cardboard underneath.
    • Take care not to damage the bat's head. Damaging the head can invalidate rabies testing.
    • Only release the bat outdoors if you are certain no people or pets were exposed.
    • If there is any uncertainty, call Maine CDC before releasing the bat.


    Submitting Bats for Rabies Testing

    • Bats can be tested for rabies at Maine's Health and Environmental Testing Laboratory.
    • If a person or pet is exposed to a bat, contact your nearest Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife's (Maine IF&W) Warden Service Dispatch Center. A Game Warden will pick up and deliver the bat to the state lab for rabies testing.
    • An epidemiologist will follow up with results on any bat that tests positive.
    • Lab results for bats submitted before 9 a.m. are usually available the same day.


    Rabies Treatment in Humans

    • Rabies treatment is called rabies post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP).
    • Rabies PEP should be administered within 10 days of an exposure.
    • In most cases, rabies PEP can wait until lab results come back for the tested animal.
    • People exposed to bats should contact their health care providers.
    • Health care providers will make the decision to begin or discontinue rabies PEP.


    Rabies Management in Pets and Livestock

    • If your pets or livestock are exposed to a bat, call your veterinarian.
    • Domestic animals exposed to bats may need to be quarantined in order to rule out rabies.
    • Keeping your pets up to date on rabies vaccination can reduce quarantine times.


    Bat-Proofing Buildings

    • If you have ongoing issues with bats, contact a Maine IF&W Regional Wildlife Biologist who can talk to you about your options for removing bats from the building.


    Bats and COVID-19

    • To date, there are no reported cases of SARS-CoV-2 in North American wildlife, including bats. Mainers are unlikely to get COVID-19 when interacting with bats and other wildlife.


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