Rabies on the Wing a Rare Threat Local Experts Say

Discovery of a rabid bat on a Pasadena sidewalk Oct. 15 has alarmed many

Published : Monday, October 21, 2019 | 4:50 AM

Photo by Tim Gage under Creative Commons.

Creatures of the night, flashing a vicious array of razor-sharp teeth, bats are scary. And rabies is scary. You put rabies in the air with bats as carriers, like the one found in Pasadena last week, and you won’t need Halloween decorations to scare anyone.

After the rabid bat was found Oct. 15, more than a few questions were raised by Pasadenans worried about the danger. Bats are common in skies over Pasadena at dusk and night.

But people in-the-know canvassed by Pasadena Now said there is no reason to rush for the freeway exits.

Lauren Hamlett, the lab manager at Pasadena Humane Society who actually tested the rabid bat in question, said the public should give bats a break. They only look scary.

“There’s really not much to fear from them,” she said. “People think of them as flying rodents, but they’re not rodents at all. They’re in their own classification and are actually extremely beneficial to our environment.”

Bats are necessary to keep the insect population under control. Hamlett said they eat bugs by the thousands. As for rabies, it is “super, super rare” for the furry flyers.

Fewer than 1% of bats have rabies, according to the National Park Service.

And bats are here to stay, as eradication is not a solution, according to Manuel Carmona, Acting Deputy Director, Pasadena Public Health Department.

“It would be difficult for us to figure out bat habitats and to remove them completely from the Los Angeles County region,” he explained.

The rabies virus is transmitted usually through saliva, “so it can be passed through by bite or, even through grooming, and by other ways, explained Hamlett. “That’s how they’re transmitted from one animal to the other. It could be transmitted if there’s a predator attack and the predator has rabies.”

“A rabid bat that is circulating will nip at some of the other bats in the roost and transmit it in that way,” added Dr. Karen Ehnert, Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. “And so it spreads through bat colonies and then occasionally they might bite a human or an animal, another type of animal.”

Rare as rabies from bats may be, it’s good to know where bats keep house to be at the ready.

Chimneys, bridges, man-made bat boxes, said Hamlett, “They like being squished in between little sections.”

Now that you know where bats might reside, start walking in the opposite direction.

“In general everybody should avoid contact with wildlife,” said Carmona. “It’s just not a good thing. It doesn’t matter what type of animal we’re speaking about.”

“Definitely don’t ever touch a bat,” said Hamlett, “especially if you find one inside. We want to know all the information, like when did you find the bat.”

She noted that a bat bite is not always evident.

“You might not notice if your bit,” she said. “So if bats are found indoors with people who are sleeping or young children or people who are otherwise incapacitated who might not know or be aware of a bat, then we always recommend contacting doctors and getting the rabies vaccine.”

Ehnert recommended the pre-exposure vaccine, specifically.

“The problem with rabies is that, once you have symptoms, it is almost impossible to treat,” said Ehnert, “and you will end up dying. So once you have symptoms, you have the virus in your brain and you have encephalitis. There’s not a lot of cures for that. The only thing is prevention.”

Which is why Hamlett, much as she seems to appreciate bats, also appreciates giving them wide berth.

“I would encourage people, whenever they see wildlife, to just observe it and teach their kids to go home and read about it,” Hamlett recommended. “If you do find a bat that’s on the ground or blocking the doorway. Don’t touch it. Call us right away.”

The Pasadena Humane Society’s 24-hour Emergency Service: (626) 792-7151.

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