Submitted by the Bedford Board of Health
The Bedford Board of Health has received many calls in the past month regarding potential human or pet exposure to bats. During the summer months, the likelihood of human or domestic animal encounters with potentially rabid animals (primarily bats, skunks, and raccoons) are highest.
Attics in a home tend to be the place where bats usually choose to roost and raise their young. After a few hot summer days, an attic can become too warm for the bats, forcing them into people’s living quarters as they search for cooler environments. This may place them in proximity or even in direct contact with people.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, about 6% bats captured tests positive for rabies, but any bat that is active by day (visible during daylight) or is found in a place where bats are not usually seen, like in your home or on your lawn, just might be rabid.
Rabies is a serious viral disease that can be spread through the saliva of an infected animal by a bite, scratch, or if the saliva gets into a person’s eyes, nose, or mouth. Rabies is 100% preventable if an exposed person is treated early. However, it is fatal if treatment is not initiated promptly. The teeth and claws of bats are so small that a bite or scratch may leave only a very small mark and the wound may not bleed or hurt. Under certain conditions, a person may not realize that an exposure has occurred. Anytime a sleeping person awakes to find a bat in the room or adult witnesses a bat in the room with a previously unattended child, mentally disabled person, intoxicated person or domestic pet the situation should always be handled as a possible exposure to rabies.
If you find a bat in your home and exposure cannot be ruled out and/or you believe you may have been exposed to rabies, please contact Bedford Board of Health at (781) 275-6507 or the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (MDPH), Division of Epidemiology and Immunization at 617-983-6800 (available 24 hours) or your healthcare provider to discuss the situation.
According to MDPH if there is a possibility that a bat came in contact with people or pets, it should be captured for testing. The Bedford Board of Health can submit the bat for rabies testing to the MDPH State Laboratory. Call the Board of Health Office for additional information on testing. It is extremely important that during the process of capturing the bat, you do so without injuring the brain matter. The brain is what the lab tests for the disease. The results of a rabies specimen analysis will indicate if post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) (aka “rabies shots”) will be required. PEP treatment is always effective at preventing disease when administered promptly.
Some important reminders and precautions to take when dealing with bats
If you think you have been exposed to rabies:
- Wash the wound with soap and water right away for ten minutes.
- It is important that the animal is caught and can be tested for rabies without injuring the brain matter of the animal. See below for additional information on capturing and submitting a specimen for testing.
- Call your medical provider. They can help you determine if you need to be treated for rabies PEP.
If you think your pet was exposed to rabies:
- Use gloves, the hose, and soap to wash your pet’s wounds. Do not touch your pet with your bare hands. There may be saliva from the rabid animal still on your pet, even if you don’t see a bite or wound.
- Call your veterinarian to help you determine if the animal needs medical attention and to verify the animal’s vaccination status.
- For additional questions about domestic animal exposure, contact the Department of Agricultural Resources, Division on Animal Health at 617-626-1810.
How to capture a bat if you or your pet was exposed:
- If capturing the bat yourself – wear thick leather gloves to protect yourself. Confine the bat to one room, wait until the bat lands, cover the bat with a coffee can (or similar container), and slide cardboard under the container to trap the bat inside. Avoid doing anything that might crush the bat’s skull and make it unsuitable for testing. These steps should only be taken if it is safe to do so. Never handle a bat with bare hands.
- If you do not feel comfortable capturing the bat – you could hire a licensed pest control company to capture and euthanize the bat for you.
- After the bat is captured, call the Bedford Board of Health for details on transporting and submitting the bat for euthanization and/or testing at the State Lab.
How can I keep myself and others from getting rabies?
- Keep your chimney capped and repair holes in attics, cellars, and porches to help keep wild animals like bats and raccoons out of your home. If you open the windows in your home, ensure they have proper screens to keep wildlife out.
- Teach children never to approach or touch animals they don’t know.
- Report any animal that behaves oddly to your Bedford Animal Control Officer at 781-275-1212.
- Enjoy wild animals from a distance. Do not keep wild animals as pets. This is against the law in Massachusetts.
- Make sure your pets are vaccinated against rabies. By law, all dogs, cats, and ferrets must be regularly vaccinated against rabies. Visit your veterinarian regularly.
For more information on rabies prevention, contact the MDPH Division of Epidemiology and Immunization at 617-983-6800 or visit the MDPH website at www.mass.gov/dph/rabies or the Bedford Board of Health at 781-275-6507.