Health officials warn that human-bat interactions peak in AugustOne of the greatest risks for acquiring rabies in Minnesota is exposure to a rabid bat, and nearly 40 percent of human-bat interactions occur in the month of August. When these exposures occur, the bat should be submitted for rabies testing.
The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) wants to remind Minnesota residents that August is the peak period for human-bat interactions.
One of the greatest risks for acquiring rabies in Minnesota is exposure to a rabid bat, and nearly 40 percent of human-bat interactions occur in the month of August. When these exposures occur, the bat should be submitted for rabies testing.
A former Alexandria resident, Randy Hertwig, died last fall following contact with a rabid bat in mid-August.
Hertwig was reportedly stacking firewood in his cabin porch in north central Minnesota when he was bitten. At the time, he didn’t realize what had happened. There was no blood or puncture marks. He felt only a pinprick on his hand.
About a month later, he started experiencing some unusual symptoms – a tingling in his hand – and soon after that, he lost his ability to talk and move. He eventually fell into a deep coma. By the time physicians realized the problem could be traced to a rabid bat, it was too late.
Another bat-bite fatality in the state happened in 2000.
“These cases underscore the importance of seeking prompt medical attention if you are bitten by or may have been exposed to an animal that could be infected with rabies,” said Dr. Joni Scheftel, state public health veterinarian.
Anyone who has contact with a bat should seek immediate medical attention; contact may include finding a bat in the room of an unattended child or waking up to find a bat in the room. Bat exposures pose a special problem because bat bites are difficult to see and may not be noticed. If there is any physical contact with a bat, the area should be washed thoroughly with soap and water and the bat captured for testing. Rabies treatment is generally recommended if the bat cannot be submitted for testing.
The bat should be captured using heavy gloves and a solid container with a cover, such as a coffee can. It is important to avoid damaging the bat's head during capture, because an intact brain is essential for rabies testing. Deceased bats should be kept cool in the refrigerator, but not frozen.
The live bat or bat carcass should be hand-delivered to the Minnesota Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory in St. Paul. However, if this isn't possible, your local veterinarian can assist with humanely euthanizing a bat, as well as packaging and submitting the bat for rabies testing. Care must be taken to ensure that the bat arrives promptly and is kept cool during transport. Only 3 to 4 percent of the approximately 400 bats submitted annually for rabies testing in Minnesota are confirmed to be infected with the rabies virus.
People who may have been exposed to the rabies virus are given an injection of rabies immune globulin, and five doses of rabies vaccine given over a one-month period. Treatment is nearly 100 percent effective at preventing the disease.
People with concerns about possible exposure to rabies, or questions about the disease, can call MDH at (651) 201-5414 during normal business hours. Information on rabies is also available at www.health.state.mn.us/divs/idepc/diseases/rabies/index.html.