Good night, sleep tight, and don’t let the bats bite. By Dawn Todd
For years, when I tuck my nieces and nephews in after their bedtime story I say, ”Good night, sleep tight, and don’t let the fleas and ticks bite!” To an under 10 year- old audience, this is always hilarious.
I’m now considering changing my parting goodnight words to “Goodnight, sleep tight, and don’t let the bats bite”.
On December 16th and again on December 30th, the public health departments of South Carolina and Massachusetts respectively confirmed cases of rabies in humans. Both these sad cases are confirmed to have had the little brown bat as the source of the rabies infection.
Rabies in humans is still a terrible problem in many parts of the world, causing and estimated 55,000 deaths per year. About 99% of these human cases are caused by a rabid dog biting a human, usually a child. In the United States, thanks to widespread vaccination of dogs and cats, human cases are rare.
These two recent cases of human rabies, so close together, got me thinking about the discussions I’ve had with clients in just the past few months about rabies vaccination for their pets. One woman called our office insisting that she would not become a client of Noah’s Ark unless she could waive rabies vaccination for her pampered housedog. “He has absolutely no chance of exposure, he’s always with me, or I walk him on a leash.”
Let me tell you a true story. Many of you will remember Barb Abel, our former Patient Care Coordinator. Barb left to become a full time student at Montreat College in Black Mountain, just east of Asheville. Barb sent me this text on September 24, 2011:
“A fox just attacked me in my backyard! It came out of the woods and grabbed my pants leg with its teeth and wouldn’t let go until I started kicking at it! It didn’t break the skin, but it scared the crap out of me! I never had anything like that happen before!”
Barb called Animal Control, and it seems this fox had already bitten a neighbor. Within a day, Animal Control caught the rogue fox and it did in fact test positive for rabies.
When a fox or raccoon attacks you, it’s quite memorable. But apparently, very small bats can make their way indoors undetected. They have very small, very sharp teeth. A sleeping person who is bitten, may be unaware a bite has occurred– and that seems to be the case with these most recent human cases.
I don’t know about you, but bats haven’t really been on my radar, pardon the pun, when it comes to concerns about rabies exposure. To tell the truth, several years ago I found a bat lying in our driveway. I had the sense not to directly touch it, but only because it was bearing those tiny, sharp teeth in my direction. I put him in a box and brought him into our house! The little guy died shortly after my attempted rescue, but I look back at my actions and think… that was really stupid!
When the Centers for Disease Control compiled 2010 data, North Carolina reported 411 confirmed cases of rabies, 25 of those cases were in domestic animals. As the case with Barb, and the recent bat cases illustrate, we’re not always in control of our risk of exposure.
Here’s what you should do to protect yourself and your family:
- Keep your pets properly vaccinated against the rabies virus.
- If you find a bat inside your home, do not touch the bat! Do not release it outside. Carefully trap it in a container and take it to Macon County Animal Control or the County Health Department. They’ll send the bat off to the state laboratory to test for rabies.
- If you find a bat outdoors that your pet has had contact with, the same applies. Don’t touch the bat, trap it in a container and take it to Animal Control for testing.
About the Rabies Virus: Rabies is generally transmitted by a bite that introduces infected saliva into a wound. In humans exposed to the virus, the disease incubates in as quickly as a week, but can take up to a year. Once a human is showing the symptoms of rabies, it is nearly 100% fatal. In the US, post exposure treatments are available if they are started as soon as possible after exposure (within a few days). All mammals can be infected with rabies. The wildlife most infected in our area: raccoons, foxes, bats and skunks.