By Michael P. Collins
---- — Every year, encounters of humans with bats result in significant numbers of people needing to have the two-week series of shots that are necessary for the prevention of rabies. The key to saving yourself or your family the inconvenience and expense of this regimen is to understand three major points:
1) A significant proportion of bats in Michigan carry the virus that causes human rabies, an infection that is nearly always fatal.
2) Bats do not want contact with humans and if they do come in contact they may bite, which can transmit the virus. The bite may be painless and leave no obvious mark. Therefore any significant contact with a bat has to be considered as though a bite had occurred. And, when a bat has been in the same space (usually the same room) as a child or a sleeping or intoxicated adult, again it has to be assumed that a bite has occurred.
3) If the bat is captured rather than being set free, it can be tested at the State Health Department for rabies. If the bat tests negative, the people who have contacted it don't need to have the shots. Keep that bat!
So here are some useful and practical tips about bats:
When to catch them
n If you or others are bitten by a bat, or have contact with a bat
n If you wake up and find a bat in your bedroom
- If you find a bat in the room of a child or near a mentally impaired or an intoxicated person
- If you are not sure if there has been contact with a person
How to safely capture a bat in your home (if professional help is not available)
n You will need leather work gloves, a coffee can or similar hard-sided container, a piece of cardboard, and tape.
n When the bat lands, move toward it slowly. While wearing gloves, put the container or coffee can over the bat.
n Then, slide the cardboard under the container to trap the bat inside.
n Tape the lid to the container and punch holes in the lid, allowing the bat to breathe.
n Do not attempt to kill or crush the bat. The skull of the bat must be intact for testing.
n If the bat is dead it must be refrigerated, NOT frozen.
n Do not use towels or blankets to capture bats; you may be bitten through the fabric while handling.
Contact your local Health Department to arrange pick up of the bat for testing at the Michigan Department of Community Health (in Grand Traverse County call the Animal Control Division at 231-922-2910 or the Communicable Disease Line at 231-922-2718). There is no charge for testing. If you are unsure if exposure has occurred, or if it is after hours, capture the bat as indicated above and call the Health Department for assistance during regular business hours.
For more information about bats and rabies: http://www.cdc.gov/rabies/bats/education/.
Michael P. Collins, MD, MS is Medical Director of the Grand Traverse and Benzie-Leelanau Health Departments.