Get Up to Speed on Bats and Rabies Here
During the 2016 summer season, San Juan Basin Public Health (SJBPH) submitted and tested 17 bats for rabies, one of which was positive. Bats are by far the most common carriers of rabies in Colorado. When a potential bat exposure occurs, SJBPH has strict guidance when recommending post-exposure treatment. If a bat has been present in a room in which people have been sleeping, it is important that the bat is safely trapped and tested for rabies. If a bat cannot be tested or there are multiple bats in the home, post-exposure treatment is recommended. Please contact SJBPH for guidance on safe capture, testing of bats, and follow-up.
It is important to keep vaccinations current for cats, dogs, and other animals. According to Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) Rabies Prevention and Control Policy, precautions must be taken if there is suspicion that a pet has had sufficient contact with a wild animal that is unable to be tested, or has tested positive for rabies.
Humans get rabies from the bite of a rabies-infected animal (rabid animal). Any wild mammal, such as raccoon, skunk, fox, coyote, or bat can have rabies and transmit it to humans through a bite. In 2016 eight people in southwest Colorado received the rabies post exposure treatment due to contact with wildlife.
Tips to protect yourself:
- Do not touch live or dead wild animals.
- Ensure your residence is ‘bat proof’. Keep your doors and windows closed. Make sure your window screens don’t have holes, and keep your attic free of bats by making sure all vents are properly screened.
- Seek professional bat control if your work or home is inhabited by bats.
- Do not feed wildlife.
- Individuals are urged to keep their pets and livestock current for rabies vaccination to protect them and your family.
To report an encounter with a suspect animal, please call San Juan Basin Public Health at 970-247-5702.
San Juan Basin Public Health is a local public health agency, governed by a seven member local Board of Health, serving all residents of Archuleta and La Plata counties. For close to 70 years, San Juan Basin Public Health has improved the health and environment of southwest Colorado.
From Colorado Parks and Wildlife
One summer morning, a Colorado woman found a bat in her house, hanging behind a curtain. Intending to return the bat outdoors, she captured it in her hands and was bitten. She dropped the bat, which flew out the door and disappeared. The woman was treated for possible rabies exposure.
An 11-year-old girl also underwent rabies shots after she had attempted to rescue what she thought was a bird from the family cat. When she started to remove the “bird,” it bit her on the finger. This bat was captured and tested positive for rabies.
These are recent examples of documented cases where people have encountered bats in Colorado. In each example, the bats exhibited warning signs that something was wrong.
Overall, most bats that inhabit our state are healthy, and the ones you see flying around at night probably aren’t rabid. According to Bat Conservation International, “Bat rabies accounts for approximately one human death per year in the United States. Thus, some people consider bats to be dangerous.”
“To put the rate in perspective,” Merlin Tuttle, an active member of Bat Conservation International (BCI), states, “bicycle accidents killed 800 people, bee stings 95, and dog attacks 20 in the most recent year of reporting for the United States alone. Due to successful dog and cat vaccination programs, rabies is now the second rarest disease in the United States and Canada, behind polio.” Clearly, bats do not rank very high among mortality threats to humans. Nevertheless, prudence and simple precautions can save lives.
The Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment want to inform you about rabies in bats: what suspicious behavior to look for, what to do if you find a bat or are exposed to one, and how to prevent encounters with bats.
Bats in Colorado
- There are 18 species of bats known to live in Colorado.
- Some are here year-round, and some migrate through the state.
- They can be found in every habitat—from the eastern plains to the high mountain forests and western deserts, from rural Colorado to downtown Denver.
- All of our bats eat insects; they play a valuable role in ecosystems by helping to control insect populations.
- Little brown bats, for example, have been known to catch and eat more than 150 mosquitoes and crop pests in less than 15 minutes. Bats also pollinate plants and crops.
Many bats roost in roofs, attics and sheds, without people knowing the bats are there. When people remodel, for example, a roost may be discovered and the bats might then be excluded. There are certain times of the year when it is better to exclude bats. If you need information on excluding bats from your home, call your Parks and Wildlife office. An excluded bat might find a temporary roost site, but the site might be visible to people. Although daytime activity can be a sign of rabies, not all bats roosting visibly have rabies. If left undisturbed, the bat will probably leave in the evening to find a more suitable roost site.