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Health Department: Don’t handle bats

The report of a rabid bat found at Sandy Beach on Greers Ferry Lake in Heber Springs on Aug. 18, 2013, has caused the Arkansas Department of Health to issue a warning about contact with bats. If anyone at Sandy Beach, or any location, has handled a bat or been touched or bitten by a bat, they should contact their physician or the state public health veterinarian (501- 280-4136) and the local health unit immediately.

The first sign of rabies in an animal is usually a change in behavior. Rabid animals may attack people or other animals for no reason, or they may lose their fear of people and seem unnaturally friendly. Bats may be out in the daylight, which is an unusual behavior for them, or they may fly toward people or be unable to fly and be fluttering on the ground. While less than 1 percent of bats that appear healthy are rabid, many more sick bats or those behaving unusually are actually rabid. Both people and pets are more likely to have contact with a sick bat than a healthy one. A bat on the ground is a sick bat and should be considered a potentially rabid bat. An animal with rabies usually dies within one week of demonstrating signs of rabies. Not all rabid animals act in these ways, however, so you should avoid all wild animals — especially skunks, bats and stray cats and dogs.

Susan Weinstein, DVM, State Public Health Veterinarian, said, “Confirmed cases of rabies in bats are not uncommon in Arkansas. We generally have between five and 10 rabid bats each year in the state, so we want people to know that there are certain things they should be aware of to protect themselves and their families from disease.”

In 2012, Arkansas had a record year for rabies with 131 rabid animals, including 101 skunks, 22 bats, three cows, three dogs, one horse and one cat. So far in 2013, the increase in rabies is continuing as the state has had 111 rabies-positive animals — 97 skunks, eight bats, two dogs, two cats, one cow and one horse.

“When people think about bats, they often imagine things that are not true,” Weinstein said. “Bats are not blind. They aren’t rodents and they aren’t birds. They will not suck your blood since all bats in Arkansas just eat insects — and most bats do not have rabies. Because bats are mammals, they can develop rabies, but most do not have the disease,” Weinstein continued. “You can’t tell if a bat has rabies just by looking at it; rabies can be confirmed only by having the animal tested in a laboratory. So be safe; never handle a bat.”

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