By Tom Christensen, County of San Diego Communications Office
June 20, 2019 (San Diego's East County) - Every 10 minutes, someone in the United States is treated for possible exposure to rabies, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Once clinical signs develop, rabies is almost always fatal, however it is 100% preventable by making sure your pets are vaccinated, avoiding contact with wildlife and seeking immediate medical care after being bitten or scratched by an animal.
The CDC reports that bats are the animal most likely to transmit the rabies virus to humans, and they are the leading cause of human rabies deaths in the United States. The likelihood of human-bat interactions goes up summer months.
Various bat species may be found in all parts of San Diego County, and about 10 rabid bats are detected here each year. The first rabid bat detected in 2019 was found this week in San Marcos, but fortunately there were no known direct human contacts with the animal.
The County of San Diego Health and Human Services Agency reminds you that if you encounter a bat, you should not touch the animal.
“Do not touch a bat whether it’s dead or alive,” said Wilma Wooten, M.D., M.P.H., County public health officer. “Human rabies is usually fatal without prompt post-exposure vaccine and treatment.”
Rabies transmission can occur from a bat bite or scratch, or it can also be transmitted if the bat’s saliva comes into contact with a cut or abrasion or mucous membranes such as your eyes, nose or mouth.
If you or one of your pets encounter a bat in your home or any building on your property, you should contact the animal control agency that serves your area to come and safely remove it. A list by ZIP code of the animal control services throughout the county may be found here.
Bats that are not exposed to humans can be rehabilitated at San Diego Humane Society’s Project Wildlife. Call (619) 299-7012 for more information.
If for some reason you need to remove a dead bat immediately, there are steps to ensure you are doing so properly:
- Pick up the dead bat with a plastic bag or disposable gloves over your hands
- Place both the bat and the plastic bag or gloves into a different plastic bag
- Spray the bag with disinfectant, close the bag securely and keep it in a safe place out of the sun until animal control arrives. If you cannot contact animal control, then dispose of the bags in a covered trash can.
- Thoroughly wash your hands and any clothing that may have touched the bat
“It’s important that if direct contact with the bat occurs that the person washes the affected area immediately with soap and water and seeks medical advice immediately,” Wooten said.
According to the CDC, if you wake up with a bat in the room, you should assume you may have been exposed to rabies and see a health care provider right away to determine if you need to receive post-exposure treatment.
The last human case of rabies in San Diego County was in 2001 when a man developed the disease after being bitten by a dog on a trip overseas. The last case of human rabies from a bite that occurred in the county was in 1969.