Rabies is a preventable viral disease of mammals most often transmitted through the bite of a rabid animal. Any mammal can get rabies. The most common wild reservoirs of rabies are raccoons, skunks, bats, foxes, and coyotes. Domestic mammals can also get rabies. Cats, cattle, and dogs are the most frequently reported rabid domestic animals in the United States.
Rabies can be spread from infected animals to humans when they come in contact with saliva or brain/nervous system tissue. Rabies is transmitted only when the virus is introduced into a bite wound, open cuts in skin, or onto mucous membranes such as the mouth or eyes.The rabies virus infects the central nervous system, ultimately causing disease in the brain and death.
If you think you may have been exposed to an animal with rabies it is important not to delay medical decision. Wash any wounds immediately with soap and water. See your doctor for attention for any trauma due to an animal attack before considering the need for rabies vaccination.
Your doctor, possibly in consultation with your state or local health department, will decide if you need a rabies vaccination. Decisions to start vaccination, known as postexposure prophylaxis (PEP), will be based on your type of exposure and the animal you were exposed to, as well as laboratory and surveillance information for the geographic area where the exposure occurred.
In the United States, postexposure prophylaxis consists of a regimen of one dose of immune globulin and four doses of rabies vaccine over a 14-day period. Rabies immune globulin and the first dose of rabies vaccine should be given by your health care provider as soon as possible after exposure. Additional doses or rabies vaccine should be given on days 3, 7, and 14 after the first vaccination. Current vaccines are relatively painless and are given in your arm, like a flu or tetanus vaccine.
Bat Exposure Guidelines
The types of exposure to bats that necessitate the need for rabies PEP (Post Exposure Prophylaxis) if the bat cannot be tested negative for rabies include:
- Bat bite
- Presence of saliva in a mucus membrane or skin abrasion
- Physical contact with a bat without heavy gloves where either a bat bite or bat saliva entering a mucus membrane or skin abrasion cannot be ruled out
- Live bat found in the room with a sleeping person
- Live bat found in a room with a small child or other person who cannot clearly indicate whether a bite or saliva exposure may have taken place
The PEP treatment is very expensive, costing the victim several thousands of dollars and involves several office visits for treatment.
If there has been an exposure…do not shoo the bat outside!
If you have had an exposure as listed above here are some ways to safely capture the bat to submit for testing:
- Place a container some kind, (coffee can, cool whip bowl, etc.) over the bat and slip a heavy piece of paper between the can and wall trapping the bat inside. Place lid on container and refrigerate until you can call Animal Control, 815-879-5981 or Bureau County Health Department, 815-872-5091 . If this occurs over a week-end or holiday the bat will keep in the refrigerator until the next business day.
- If you throw a towel over the bat, be sure to wear bite proof gloves to pick up the bat. The bat can be placed in a zip lock bag.
- Do not attempt to kill the bat by hitting it. The head must be intact for testing. Also, smashing the head could aerosolize the rabies virus that is in the bat’s brain, blood and saliva.
- Never pick up a bat without bite proof gloves, their fur could have been contaminated by their saliva during grooming.
Observe your roof lines, dormers, vent systems, and chimneys around your dwelling at dusk for outgoing bat activity. During the day look at these areas for bat dropping (guano); bat guano will have a shiny appearance and be brittle due to the remains of insects. The guano will usually be found in piles near the roost. There may also be staining from the bats body oils.
Bats are a protected species in Illinois. You may need to call an Illinois profession wildlife control operator for removal, control, exclusion and relocation services.
Rabies Information for Healthcare Professionals