Increased contact with bats leads to more rabies vaccinations in N. Ky.; health officials say all encounters should be reported

Fruit bat roosting in a home

Northern Kentucky health officials are warning residents to be more wary of bats after an unusually high number of residents have made contact with bats inside their homes and have had to receive the rabies vaccine. They are asking them to report any encounter with bats to the health department.

Bats are commonly infected with rabies and have very small teeth, and so someone who wakes up with a bat in their bedroom might not realize it has bitten them, Northern Kentucky Health Department spokeswoman Emily Gresham-Werle told Brenna Kelly of The Kentucky Inquirer.

It is crucial to vaccinate against rabies after contact with a bat, if the bat cannot be captured to receive testing for rabies. “If someone is exposed to the rabies virus and not treated, the result is neurological disease and death,” Kelly notes.

Each year, tens of thousands of people are successfully protected from developing rabies through vaccination after being bitten by an animal like a bat that may have rabies, says the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. “There are usually only one or two human rabies cases each year in the United States, and the most common way for people to get rabies in the United States is through contact with a bat,” says the CDC. Some of these reported cases resulted from known encounters with bats.

The problem In Northern Kentucky may be due to development in the area that has caused bats to lose their natural habitat. So far this year, 13 people who were exposed to bats have decided to get the vaccine.

Usually only two to three people a year in the area have to get the vaccine because of a bat, Gresham-Wherle said. “Local and state health officials speculate that the weather and loss of bat habitat have contributed to the high number,” reports Kelly.

“The rabies vaccine, which is nearly 100 percent effective against the virus, involves four rabies shots and one antibody shot over a period of two weeks.

The vaccine, which is given by shots in the arm, can also be expensive, with costs ranging from $2,000 to $6,000 for the series, with additional fees for doctors or emergency room visits,” Gresham-Werle told Kelly.

All exposure to bats and all bites by mammals must be reported to the local health department. In some instances the animal may be captured for rabies testing so that the bitten individual will not need to be vaccinated against the deadly disease. You can’t tell if an animal carries the rabies virus just by looking at it, because rabies can only be confirmed in a laboratory, warns the CDC.

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