MAYVILLE - The Chautauqua County Department of Health has received notification of this year's first confirmed positive rabies case in the Town of Ellington.
The case involved a bat which landed on and was brushed off of an individual's head. Although there was no evidence of a bite, rabies prevention shots are ordered when it is confirmed or suspected a human has had bare skin contact with the saliva of a rabid animal. Rabies almost always leads to death without prompt treatment.
"Most bats are healthy and contribute to our environment in many positive ways, particularly by controlling insects," County Public Health Director Christine Schuyler said. "However, every area of New York State, including Chautauqua County, has some bats that are infected with rabies. Human contact with bats should be avoided and because pets are more at risk from rabid bats, all dogs, cats and ferrets more than three months old need to be vaccinated, as required by law, against rabies."
Bats infected with rabies quickly show signs. Avoid contact with any bat, but especially one outdoors during daylight, on the ground or paralyzed. Bats rarely attack humans, however, any physical contact with a rabid bat may transmit the disease. In some situations, a bat bite could go undetected, such as when a bat is found in a room with a sleeping person or next to an unattended young child or a pet.
If there is any chance contact with a bat occurred to a person or pet or if unsure if contact occurred, capture the bat without touching it. Be sure to keep the head of the bat intact. Because the rabies test is performed on the brain of the animal, it is important the animal's brain remain intact. If indoors, close windows, close room and closet doors, turn on lights and wait for the bat to land. While wearing heavy gloves, cover the bat with a pail, coffee can or similar container. Immediately call the Chautauqua County Health Department at 1-866-604-6789. If the bat is not captured or tests positive for rabies, every person and pet that had a reasonable probability of exposure should receive rabies prevention shots as soon as possible. The individual in the current case followed proper procedure and captured the bat so it could be sent to the New York State Rabies Lab for testing.
Because bats join raccoons, skunks and foxes as the most common carriers of rabies in New York, keeping bats out of homes is a good first step to protect individuals, families and pets. During the cold months, bats hibernate in caves and mines. In spring and summer, two species of bats, commonly known as the big and little brown bat, roost in attics, behind shutters and in other sheltered areas of homes and buildings. Other common points of entry and roosting are under roofing or siding, the underside of a porch roof, between the house and chimney, vents, rafters, and behind hollow walls.
To "bat-proof" a home, use polypropylene bird netting, fly screening, sheet metal, wood or various caulking compounds to close or cover openings that allow entry to the roost. Remember house bats can pass through crevices as thin as a pencil. Before bat-proofing, make sure there are no bats already in the roost. The best time to bat-proof is late fall through winter.
Rabies is a disease of warm-blooded animals caused by a virus which is transmitted to humans and animals through saliva. It can enter the body from a bite, scratch, scrape or open cut. Two forms of rabies exist. An animal has "furious" rabies when it tries to attack and bite. When animals have "dumb" rabies, they are listless and sleepy and have varying degrees of paralysis. Wildlife infected with rabies act differently than expected. The rabies virus infects the central nervous system, symptoms quickly progress and death usually occurs within days.
For more information about rabies and free upcoming rabies clinics, contact the Chautauqua County Department at 1-866-604-6789.