Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Bats Are Still Our Friends: Southern Indiana Resident Killed by Rabies

A Clark County, IN citizen has died of rabies after likely being bitten by a bat, authorities say. While 41 cases of confirmed animal rabies have been reported throughout Kentucky this year, human cases are low. Recent information was hard to find, but there were 35 confirmed human cases in 1999, none of which ended in death because each were treated with an after-bite vaccine. This particular case was only the second rabies death in Indiana in the last fifty years.

Rabies is out there, and bats are carriers. Rabies is easily transferred between bats due to their close proximity (bats are communal and huddle for warmth). The virus can also occasionally be aerosolized in the air breathed out by the animal, resulting in other nearby animals breathing in the virus. Even so, most bats do not carry the disease, and the likelihood of being bitten by a bat, even under confrontational events, is very low. I have come into contact with bats four times over the last ten years (mainly due to construction work). While careful not to touch the animals with bare skin, none of these bats even tried to bite. All were only interested in getting away.

If you find a bat roosting in your home, the best way to deal with it is to wear gloves and slowly approach the animal with a paper bag or a shoe box with a thin piece of cardboard. slip the bag opening or the shoe box over the animal and gently close bag around or slide cardboard behind the bat. Once trapped, take the animal outside and release it. Then, try to find where the animal gained entrance to your home. It may have been through an open window without a screen, or through an open attic vent, or even through an unscreened chimney cap. That opening should be dealt with quickly. Do not, under any circumstances, ever touch a bat or any wild animal (even if it appears dead) without gloves. Also, providing a bat house on your property, away from your house, can encourage problem bats to leave your home.

Why go through all this trouble instead of killing the bat? Bats are very helpful creatures that serve a unique function. They eat an incredible amount of insects each night. One Little Brown Bat can eat approximately 1,200 mosquitoes in an evening. Besides mosquitoes, bats eat moths, flies, flying beetles, and other insect pests. They also have been known to take spiders from their webs. Farmers with nearby bat populations spend much less on pesticides than those without. Bats are our friends.

Another reason to help bats is that they reproduce very slowly. Bats only produce one pup per year. Further, at least 50% of bats do not live past their first year due to: falls; impact deaths; cat, squirrel, raccoon, and Opossum predation; and disease. Those bats that do survive can live up to 33 years. They are impressive creatures. Please do your part to keep bats flying and to prevent human/bat confrontation.

The following image is of Little Brown Bats in a bat house, courtesy of Phil Myers, University of Michigan.

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