The upcoming long weekend means more people will be outside enjoying the weather and opening summer cabins. This can mean an increased risk of contact with bats, the primary carrier of the rabies virus in B.C.
Bats can fly into poorly sealed cabins and homes, or roost in attic spaces. Between four and eight per cent of bats that come into contact with people, and are tested, are found to be positive for the rabies virus.
“If you come into contact with live or dead bats it is very important to avoid touching them,” says Jennifer Jeyes, Communicable Disease Specialist with Interior Health. “And parents should remind their children not to play with or touch bats.”
Last year, 23 people in the region were treated for potential exposure to rabies. Treatment, involving a two week long period of vaccinations, is most effective when administered as soon as possible after exposure. Without treatment to prevent its onset, rabies is almost always fatal.
Interior Health advises that all contact with bats should be taken seriously.
“Anyone who has handled a bat should contact their Public Health Unit or their physician right away,” says Jeyes. ”Because bats have tiny sharp teeth and claws their scratches or bites are not always visible and in some cases it can take weeks or even months for symptoms to appear. Early treatment is essential in preventing the disease from progressing – it’s very important to get checked out as soon as possible.”
Interior Health offers these tips to protect yourself:
- Do not touch live or dead bats.
- Make your home or cabin “bat proof”. Keep doors and windows closed, make sure window screens don’t have any holes and keep the attic area free of bats by keeping all vents properly screened and by closing off other openings.
- If you find a live bat in a room of your home, open the window and close interior doors until the bat leaves.
- Seek professional bat-control advice (from a pest control or wildlife specialist) if your work or home is inhabited by bats.
- Avoid locations or activities where bats are likely to be found (e.g. caves).
- If you have a pet dog, cat or ferret, make sure they are vaccinated regularly against rabies. Pets that were born and raised in B.C. pose a very low risk of transmitting rabies to humans; however, vaccinating your pets will protect them from rabies.
If you have been exposed:
- Thoroughly wash any bite wounds with soap and water.
- Contact your local Public Health Unit or family doctor immediately.
- Safely contain the bat to prevent others from being exposed. Keep the bat in a safe location until Public Health can arrange to pick it up and test it for rabies.
When traveling abroad:
- Be aware of the risk of rabies in the country you are visiting.
- If you were bitten by an animal and started on the rabies vaccine, keep all documentation you were provided. It will need to be reviewed by Public Health when you return home.
- Note the type of clinic or hospital you visited. This information will be used by Public Health to determine if you received the same standard of protection that you would have received at home.
For more information:
See HealthLink BC File #07 at http://www.healthlinkbc.ca/healthfiles/hfile07.stm