SALT LAKE TOWN – Late summer to fall is traditionally when the Utah bat population is at its peak; because of this, public health officials warn that there is an increased risk of rabies due to creatures.
The Utah Department of Health said Tuesday that of the 44 tests tested for rabies this year, four tested positive. With greater risk, they remind the state of Utah to be careful around bats in the coming weeks and months.
“If you find yourself near a bat, dead or alive, don’t touch it, hit it, or destroy it, or try to clean it yourself,” said Hannah Rettler, an epidemiologist at the Utah Department of Health. release. “Call your local animal control office to pick up the bat and call your healthcare provider or local health department immediately to report possible exposure and determine if preventive treatment is needed.”;
There are at least 18 species of bats in Utah, according to Kimberly Gersey, the coordinator of mammal conservation at Utah’s Natural Resources Division. Because species feed mainly on insects, many species of bats migrate or overwinter in the colder months.
They usually wake up from hibernation or return from migration around May and June. That’s when female bats find places where they can give birth to puppies.
“They are amazing and adapted, and part of this adaptation is that some species have been able to get along quite well with humans and actually find habitat in our homes,” said Gercy. “Women are looking for a nice, warm place to settle in, have their children and raise them. Attics, under roofs and elsewhere in homes can provide conditions that are really good for some of these species. ”
Puppies begin to crawl around and fly for the first time about a few weeks later, which means that the population of bats flying around Utah begins to increase during the last half of summer.
“This is the time of year when we will have a peak (bats), when young people appear and become more active,” Gercy added.
Five species of Utah bats will begin migrating in late August and will last until October.
Risk of rabies
Rabies is a virus that attacks the nervous system of humans and animals. It can be infected through bites, scratches or saliva. The bat’s teeth and claws are small enough for someone not to see or feel the bite or scratch, say health officials. That is why it is important to avoid them if possible.
The state requires all domestic dogs, cats and ferrets to receive the rabies vaccine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 40,000 Americans receive preventive treatment each year after exposure to rabies.
Utah officials say rabies is considered 100% fatal after rabies symptoms appear. Although it causes thousands of deaths each year worldwide, a 2019 study published by the CDC found that rabies in humans in the United States was extremely rare. It noted that there were 125 deaths of rabies per person between 1960 and 2018, or about two a year.
This does not mean that it cannot happen. For example, a 55-year-old man from Sanpete County died of rabies in 2018, the first rabies death in Utah in 74 years. Bats have been attributed as a source of how he contracted the virus.
The state health department recommends that pet owners keep their pets and monitor them when they are outdoors to prevent contact with wildlife. They also advise people not to turn to wild animals, noting that animals infected with rabies can surrender to humans without fear.
If you are bitten by any wild or domestic creature, the department recommends immediately washing the wound with soap and a doctor, as well as animal control to help capture the animal for testing or rabies surveillance.
More rabies tips can be found on the department’s website.
What to do if you have bats at home
When bats fly around during the peak season, it is likely that some – including a colony of bats – may find shelter in your home for rooting. So what do you do in such a scenario?
Bats are a protected species of wildlife, which makes the act of killing them illegal. According to Gercy, homeowners should first contact an authorized wildlife rehabilitation or trouble control company that will work with wildlife to eliminate them. DWR has a list of these companies on its website.
It is worth noting that the wildlife agency does not usually remove bat colonies during this time of year, as this is a critical period for the prosperity of young puppies. Some exceptions are made if there are problems related to human health or safety, Gercy added.
As for one bat in the house, wildlife officials say people can also remove bats in two ways. One way is to open a door or window, turn off all the lights in the house, and turn on the outside light, which can cause the bat to fly on its own. The second is to remove it with a box or container. In this situation, a person can approach the bat and put a container around it, and then move a piece of cardboard or anything that closes the container. They can then release the bat on a tree or other tall object.
Given the risk of rabies, wildlife says people should wear sturdy gloves and not handle the bat with their bare hands.
DWR experts say that people can also prevent bats from taking root in their homes. This can be done by adding fans in the attic to cool it and make it difficult for the bat to roll over. People can also seal cracks in attics before or after a bat has settled there. Officials said people could also set up a bird net that bats could fall out of when leaving the house, but making it difficult for them to return home. Once all the bats are gone, they can seal the holes in the house.
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