Illinois Department of Public Health warns public to watch out for rabid animals

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SPRINGFIELD — With global warming, the Illinois Department of Public Health is warning the public to beware of rabid animals, especially bats, as they become more active this time of year. IDPH has received reports of four rabid bats in the state since May 15 from Champaign, Jackson, Macon and Will counties. IDPH stressed that a bite from a rabid animal can be potentially fatal if left untreated and that the public should take precautions to keep bats away from their homes. They also remind the public to ensure that rabies vaccines are up to date for pets and any valuable livestock and horses for which a rabies vaccine is available. If a pet is exposed to a high-risk wild animal, such as a bat, skunk, raccoon, fox or coyote, you should contact a veterinarian immediately for advice.

“Although there is a preventive treatment for rabies, it is one of the deadliest diseases we know of,” said IDPH acting director Amaal Tokars.

Rabies is a virus that affects the nervous system (brain and nerves). People can get rabies after being bitten by an infected animal. Rabies can also be contracted when a rabid animal’s saliva or spit gets directly into a person’s eyes, nose, mouth, or wound. People usually know when they’ve been bitten by a bat, but bats have very small teeth and the bite mark may not be easy to see. If you are near a bat and you are not sure if you have been exposed, for example – you wake up and find a bat in your bedroom, do not kill or release the bat before calling your doctor or local health department to help determine if you may have been exposed to rabies and need preventive treatment (i.e. vaccinations or other products to prevent you from getting rabies). If the bat is available for testing and the test results are negative, preventive treatment is not necessary.

If you have been bitten by an animal, see a doctor immediately. Animal bites can also be infected with bacteria. Rabies preventive treatment, if necessary, should begin promptly.

An animal does not have to be aggressive or show other symptoms to have rabies. Changes in the normal behavior of any animal can be warning signs of rabies. A bat that is active during the day, found on the ground, or flightless is more likely than others to be rabid. These bats are often easy to approach, but should never be handled.

The following tips can help prevent the spread of rabies:

• Do not touch, feed or unintentionally attract wildlife with open garbage cans or litter.

• Never adopt wild animals or bring them into your home. Do not attempt to treat sick wild animals. Call animal control or an animal rescue agency for assistance.

• Teach children never to handle unfamiliar animals, wild or domestic, even if they seem friendly. “Love your own, leave other animals alone” is a good principle for children to learn about reducing the risk of exposure to rabid animals.

• Maintain homes and other buildings so that bats cannot get inside.

• If a bat is in your home, do not release it outside until you have spoken with animal control or public health officials.

• After consulting with animal control or public health officials, the bat may need to be captured for rabies testing to determine if you need preventive treatment.

Steps you can take to capture the bat if animal control is not available are:

• When the bat lands, approach slowly, wearing gloves, and place a can or coffee can on it.

• Slide a piece of cardboard under the container to trap the bat inside.

• Tape the cardboard securely to the container and poke small holes in the cardboard to allow the bat to breathe.

• Do not come into physical contact with a bat.

For more information on rabies and keeping bats out of your home, visit the IDPH website.

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