A bat in Washburn County tested positive for rabies this week. Rabies is an infectious viral disease that affects the nervous system of humans and other mammals. Rabies is almost always fatal once symptoms appear. In Wisconsin, skunks and bats are the most likely animals to carry the rabies virus but it has also occurred in dogs, cats, foxes, raccoons, and livestock.
Rabies is contracted by exposure to a rabid animal. Most of the recent human rabies cases in the United States have been found through testing to have been caused by a bat variant of the rabies virus. If you are bitten or scratched by a bat, wash the wound thoroughly with soap and warm water and seek medical advice immediately.
Most people know when they have been bitten by a bat, but because bats have small teeth which may leave marks that are not easily seen, there are situations in which you should seek medical advice even in the absence of an obvious bite wound. For example, if you awaken and find a bat in your room, see a bat in the room of an unattended child, or see a bat near a mentally incapacitated or intoxicated person, seek medical advice and have the bat tested.
Pets, particularly cats, may often catch bats. If you find a dead or injured bat near your pet, the bat should be sent in for testing, and your pet quarantined until the results are known. Keep your pets current on their rabies vaccines.
The Health Department can assist with getting the bat tested. If a bat that just bit a person or pet is killed or captured, keep the dead bat in the refrigerator until it can be brought to the Health Department. DO NOT FREEZE IT. Animals can only be shipped to the Wisconsin State Lab of Hygiene for testing on weekdays, so if the bite occurs on the weekend, keep the bat refrigerated until the following Monday. If it is alive, keep it in a secure container, and contact the Health Department to arrange for humane euthanasia.
Rabies Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (rabies vaccine series) should be started in most cases involving a bat bite and can be discontinued if the bat tests negative for rabies. Bats are more likely to carry rabies than other animals in Northwestern Wisconsin, and the method used to kill a bat that has just bitten someone often leaves the brain untestable for rabies. If preventative treatment is obtained promptly following rabies exposure, virtually all cases of rabies will be prevented.