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Bat sightings prompt questions into rabies virus


Aug. 15, 2014

By Carley Dangona
carley@thereminder.com

WEST SPRINGFIELD – The recent increase in bat sightings has prompted many residents to call the Health Department with questions and concerns regarding the rabies virus.

Jeanne Galloway, director of the department, explained that the increased sightings are partly due to the high temperatures, which drive bats out of hiding places such as attics and because this is the time when the young depart from their home roost.
   
“Ninety percent of rabies cases are from bats,” Galloway said. “But, only 10 percent of bats have rabies.”
   
She noted that most bats native to New England are interested in insects, not people. Galloway added that rabies causes animals to act contrary to their normal behavior. “Animals who are generally shy will be aggressive [and vice versa],” she said.
   
According to the Rabies Quarterly Report 2014 that is generated by the Massachusetts Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS), the majority of animals tested for the virus came from Middlesex County with more than 250 examined. In comparison, Hampden County only tested 70 animals. The EOHHS website, www.mass.gov/eohhs, has an entire section dedicated to the topic of rabies including information specific to bats.
   
MassWildlife’s “Bat Booklet” discusses how to evict a bat. The booklet states, “The discovery of a bat flying through the house can create anything from excitement to hysteria within a family. Fortunately, a single bat usually can be dealt with quite easily. It will not become tangled in your hair or attack, although it may flutter by close enough for you to feel the light breeze from its wingtips. The best action is to put away that broom or tennis racket and open a window or door so the bat can fly out.”
   
The text continues, “If possible, close off the room containing the bat and open a window in that room. Using its ‘sonar,’ a flying bat will usually circle the room several times until it locates the open window, whereupon it will immediately fly out. If possible, stay in the room with the lights on and watch to be sure the bat leaves. (For some people, leaving the bat alone to find its way out may be the preferred plan.) It is usually only a matter of a few minutes before the bat leaves the house.”
   
Galloway stated that “bat proofing” one’s home is key to avoiding re-entry. She said that some types of bats are so small they can fit through a “dime-sized hole.” She recommended that homeowners have guano (bat droppings) cleaned from the home because a bat use the smell to relocate it’s seasonal home. In large amounts, guano can be toxic.
   
Galloway stressed the importance of vaccinating domestic animals, especially dogs and cats, the former of which that likes to catch bats. She commented that there is no cure for the neurologic toxin that is spread through saliva.
   
For residents who have come into contact with a bat, call local health department for assistance.

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