(May11, 2012) Public health officials remind residents and visitors to reduce their exposure to rabies by avoiding contact with wild animals, especially bats. Fortunately, a series of anti-rabies shots prevents rabies from developing in people who have been exposed to an infected animal. However, once a person develops signs or symptoms of rabies infection there is no treatment and it is always fatal. In 2009, a Michigan resident unfortunately died from rabies that he contracted from a bat exposure.
Most bats are not infected with rabies; it is estimated that 4 - 6% of the bats tested for rabies by Michigan Department of Community Health each year had the disease. Locally, about one animal tests positive for rabies every year in the Health Department's four-county service area. Raccoons, skunks, and bats are most often tested for rabies, and bats are responsible for most rabies exposure.
“If a bat does happen to get in your home, it's important to call your Health Department office to rule out rabies,” said Joshua Meyerson, MD, Medical Director for the Health Department of Northwest Michigan. “If you wake up and find a bat in your room; that is considered an exposure to rabies, even if you haven't touched it.”
“Make every effort to capture the bat in a container and call us to have it tested,” he said. “If we can test it, we can determine if treatment is warranted. Without the bat, we have to assume it had rabies—and treatment is crucial to avoid developing the disease, which is fatal without treatment. Only one person is on record of surviving rabies.” Treatment for rabies consists of 5 anti-rabies shots over 28 days.
The best way to prevent rabies is to avoid contact with potentially infected animals. Parents should advise children not to pet or touch wild animals. Never approach or handle any animal that looks or acts ill, or behaves strangely. In addition, vaccinate your pets against rabies.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) & Prevention recommends the following steps to avoid exposure to animals infected with rabies:
The Health Department of Northwest Michigan is mandated by the Michigan Public Health Code to promote wellness, prevent disease, provide quality healthcare, address health problems of vulnerable populations, and protect the environment for the residents and visitors of Antrim, Charlevoix, Emmet, and Otsego counties.
For additional information about rabies, contact your health care provider or visit www.michigan.gov/rabies.