Kalamazoo County has lab-confirmed a rabies positive bat as of Friday, June 17, 2016. This is the first rabies positive bat found in the County since 2013, as only a very small percentage of the bat population are carriers of the disease.

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Rabies is a fatal virus found in the saliva of infected animals. It is usually transmitted by bite or scratch. Fewer than ten people die annually in the United States because of the availability of anti-rabies treatment and due to the careful evaluation of potential exposures by local health departments. Death from the disease is most frequently a result of individuals being unaware of their exposure, or from failure to seek medical attention after being bitten and/or scratched. Most human rabies deaths in the United States are attributed to bats.

In 2014, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Bureau of Laboratories (MDHHS BOL) tested 3, 078 animal specimens. Of these, only 41 (1.3%) were positive for rabies, including 38 bats and 3 skunks.

Bats are the most common carrier of rabies in Michigan. If a bat is found inside your home, DO NOT DISCARD IT. The Kalamazoo County Health Department recommends that you instead safely collect the bat through the following means:

  • Wear leather gloves
  • Place a coffee can or box over the bat
  • Using a piece of sturdy cardboard, slide it under the can or box
    Tape the cardboard firmly to the container to secure the bat inside.

A dead bat should be submitted for rabies testing as long as its skull is intact. DO NOT crush the bat or put the bat in the freezer. Next, contact Disease Surveillance at the Kalamazoo County Health Department (HCS) 269-373-5267.

Bats are more active this time of year. They are retiring and nocturnal, but can often be seen darting in-flight under summer skies at dusk. They are not active in the daytime. While rabies can only be confirmed by laboratory testing, any bat seen in the daytime or that is unable to fly is more likely to be rabid. A bat should never be touched or handled.

Most people know when they’ve been bitten. However, there are circumstances when exposure occurs without obvious evidence. Bats have small teeth and tiny claws. Bites or scratches can escape detection. A sleeping person awakening to a bat in the room is considered exposed. It is also considered an exposure when a bat is found in a room with an unattended child, or a mentally impaired or intoxicated person. Under such circumstances, it is very important to capture the bat for testing. Any questions or concerns regarding an exposure please contact HCS Disease Surveillance at 269-373-5267.

If a pet has been exposed, it is still important to capture the bat and submit it for testing. If this can’t be done, follow up is required with your pet’s veterinarian or HCS Disease Surveillance at 269-373-5267. All cats and dogs must have current rabies vaccinations.

Rabies is always fatal. Fortunately, if a bite or exposure has occurred and the suspected bat cannot be captured for testing, the post-exposure rabies vaccine series is safe and effective. Medical treatment must be sought under such circumstances.