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Rabid Bats!!!

Photo: Illustrations by Ben Claassen III, License: N/A

Illustrations by Ben Claassen III

Rabid bats have become something of a meme this summer, with multiple reports and warnings coming from the West Coast (Los Angeles health officials warned of high rabies counts on July 22), a loose bat on a Wisconsin-to-Atlanta airline flight (YouTube has the grainy video), and, on Aug. 18, a report from Texas of the first death caused by a rabid vampire bat ever in the United States. On the same day, Baltimore health officials cautioned residents against handling bats they may find in their homes or other enclosed spaces, as 15 of the more than 250 tested locally this year have been rabid, which is already four more rabid bats than were captured in the city in all of 2010. State records indicate there were nine rabid bats found in Baltimore City in 2009, and three in 2008.

Nationally there is no obvious increase in rabies cases, either in bats or other animals, according to Diane Odegard, an outreach associate at Texas-based Bat Conservation International. She cites 2009 figures from the Centers for Disease Control that found a decrease in rabid raccoons and bats, though an increase in rabid skunks, foxes, dogs, cats, cattle, and horses. The 2009 figures are the latest available, she says.

The Baltimore Health Department receives the most calls about bats inside residences “through mid-summer, when bats bear their young,” says Brian Schleter, a spokesperson for the city Health Department, in an e-mail.

If you find a bat swooping around your house, the important thing is don’t try to grab it with your bare hands, and don’t panic. “All Maryland bats are insectivores,” Schleter says. “They eat mosquitoes, moths, and beetles at night. However, they are known to carry rabies. Since bats’ teeth are very tiny, people and pets can get bitten and not know it, so post exposure vaccinations may be warranted. For these reasons, we encourage residents to report any bats found in their home to 311 and keep their pets up-to-date on rabies vaccinations.” 

Oh, and those vampire bats? They don’t even live in the States, according to Odegard. “It was not made very clear in some of the reports that this did not happen in Texas,” she says. “The man was bitten in Mexico. The research that we have seen regarding vampire bats moving north indicates that at this point . . . it will be several decades before that happens.“

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