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Bats and Rabies

WHY BE CONCERNED ABOUT BATS AND RABIES?
  • Rabies is an infectious disease caused by a virus that infects nerves in warm-blooded animals. The rabies virus reaches the brain through the nervous system.
  • Eventually it reaches the salivary glands, and the rabies virus can be transmitted through the bite or scratch of an infected animal. By this time, the disease has usually affected the brain and caused a change in the behaviour of the animal. It eventually causes death.
  • Although the animal might not be showing any signs or symptoms at the time of the bite or scratch, the animal might still be infectious and be able to transmit rabies through its saliva.
  • There are different strains of rabies, but unlike flu strains, one vaccine protects against all strains. There are three strains presently in Ontario:
    • 'arctic fox' (predominantly in foxes and skunks);
    • 'mid-Atlantic' raccoon (mainly found in raccoons); and
    • a variety of bat strains.
  • Unlike other mammals that carry rabies (such as foxes, raccoons, and skunks), bats cannot be vaccinated using baits.
  • Bats have small, needle-like teeth that result in bites that can go easily undetected. The victim may not be aware that a bite has occurred - especially while sleeping.
  • Bat strain rabies is found throughout Canada and the Americas. The Big Brown bat strain causes more than 95% of all confirmed rabid bats in Ontario. However, there's evidence suggesting that the silver-haired bat strain is the most likely strain to infect humans.
IS IT POSSIBLE TO IDENTIFY IF A BAT HAS RABIES?

It is not always possible to identify if a bat has rabies, however, rabid bats may display the following signs:

  • lose the ability to fly
  • active during daylight hours
  • are not afraid of noises 
  • may appear to be lazy

Generally, behaviour in wild animals makes it difficult to determine if the human exposure was unprovoked or provoked, it is important to seek medical attention and consult the local health unit. However, some behaviour in bats may be considered abnormal and indicative of rabies, such as a bat attacking a person or hanging on relentlessly to a person.

The period of rabies virus shedding in a wild animal such as a bat is unknown. Therefore, when bats are involved in an exposure that could potentially transmit rabies, a trained wildlife removal operator, licenced pest control operator, or local animal control department should be contacted to capture the bat. The person should use extreme caution to ensure that there is limited contact with the bat. The bat should be humanely euthanized immediately in a way that does as little damage to the brain as possible so it can be submitted for rabies testing in consultation with the local health unit.

WHAT IF THERE IS HUMAN CONTACT WITH A BAT OR A BAT FOUND INDOORS?
  • Seek medical attention immediately if you are bitten, scratched, or exposed to bat saliva.
  • If a bat is found in a room with a child or adult (who is unable to give a reliable history of the encounter), assume direct contact has been made.
  • Contact the local health unit to discuss if there is the need for post-exposure rabies vaccination.

If a bat is found in the home:

  • Make absolutely sure there is no human or animal contact.
  • Do not try to capture the bat. Try to confine the bat to one room and contact a trained wildlife removal operator, licenced pest control operator, or local animal control services.

If the bat is available (alive or dead), it may be sent for testing to rule out potential rabies exposure. Call to speak to a public health inspector at 705-721-7520 or 1-877-721-7520.

WHY DOES THE BAT NEED BE TESTED IF THERE WAS POTENTIAL HUMAN CONTACT WITH THE BAT?

Only testing can determine whether or not the bat is carrying rabies. When a health care provider does not know this information, they may recommend rabies post-exposure vaccination.

WHAT IF A BAT IS FOUND OUTSIDE?

If a bat is wandering in daylight or crawling on the ground, it may be rabid, so stay away. If you see bats outside, leave them alone. Bats are an important part of our natural environment. Contact a licenced pest control operator or local animal control department.

FACTS ABOUT BATS
  • In Ontario, there are 2 bat species that will typically roost (nest) in homes:
    • The Big Brown Bat has pale to dark brown fur, measures 7 cm long, and weighs 13-25 grams.
    • The Little Brown Bat has silky reddish-coloured fur, measures 4-5 cm long, and weighs 4-8 grams.
  • Bats are nocturnal animals and are most active in the second and third hours following sunset.
  • During the day they roost in trees and buildings.
  • They are able to squeeze through spaces as small as 6 mm to access roosts.
  • Bats help reduce the insect population and are vital to the ecosystem.
HOW CAN MY HOME BE BAT-PROOFED?
  • Examine your home for holes that may allow bat entry (openings larger than a quarter-inch by a half-inch should be caulked).
  • Use window screens, chimney caps, and draft guards beneath doors to attics.
  • Fill electrical and plumbing holes with stainless steel wool or caulking.
  • Ensure that all doors to the outside close tightly.

Contact a licenced pest control operator or a local animal control service for assistance.

WHAT IS WHITE-NOSE SYNDROME AND WHY IS IT IMPORTANT TO BE AWARE OF IT?
  • White-Nose Syndrome (WNS) is a fungus that grows on an affected bat's face, ears, and wings. It is not known to cause any human health issues.
  • Bats affected by WNS are more likely to come into contact with the general public as they leave their hibernation sites far too early in the winter.
  • A small percentage of bats with WNS may also be rabid. These bats become weak from lack of food and die out on the landscape.
  • Members of the public are asked NOT to handle any bats they may encounter.
  • For concerns about White-Nose Syndrome, contact the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative at 1-866-673-4781 OR the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry at 1-800-667-1940 (Monday to Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.) or 1-866-686-6072 (TTY/Teletypewriter users only).

Adapted with permission from Halton Region's Bats and Rabies Fact Sheet.

 

For more information about bat rabies and your health, contact Health Connection at 705-721-7520 or 1-877-721-7520 Monday to Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. or visit the health unit's website at www.simcoemuskokahealth.org.

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