CHICAGO (CBS) — The Illinois Department of Public Health on Wednesday issued a warning about the dangers of rabid bats.
A total of 27 rabid bats have been found in Illinois this year so far. Within the CBS 2 viewing area, there have been five rabid bats each in Kankakee and Lake counties, four in Cook County, three in McHenry County, and one each in Will and DeKalb counties.
Rabid bats have also been spotted in Bureau, Clark, DeKalb, Macon, McLean, Peoria, Rock Island, Sangamon, and Wayne counties downstate.
The department notes that rabid bats tend to be more frequent during the summer – particularly in July and August. Anyone or any pet who gets bitten by an infected animal or exposed to its saliva can get rabies
While the public should be aware, there is no reason to fear the bat population in general.
Bats play an essential role in pest control, pollinating plants, and dispersing seeds. Recent studies estimate that bats eat enough pests to save more than $1 billion per year in crop damage and pesticide costs in the United States corn industry alone, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
If someone wakes up to find a bat in the bedroom, that is good enough to be considered an exposure to rabies – bite mark or not.
“Rabies is a fatal but preventable disease,” IDPH Director Dr. Sameer Vohra said in a news release. “It is important that Illinois residents know how to prevent rabies exposure to protect themselves and their loved ones. Rabies can be prevented in a number of ways, including vaccinating pets, being cautious around wildlife, and seeking medical care immediately after potential exposure. If exposed, please seek medical attention immediately.”
The deadly rabies virus affects the brain and nervous system. Anyone who gets bitten by a wild animal should seek medical attention – as rabies treatment needs to begin a few days after exposure.
A bat that is active during the day, is spotted on the ground, or can’t fly is more likely to be rabid.
Anyone who discovers a bat at home should avoid killing or releasing the animal. Local animal control or the local health department should be contacted to determine the next steps.
“It’s also recommended to take steps to protect your pets against exposure to rabies,” Dr. Mark Ernst, Illinois State Veterinarian said in a news release. “Illinois law requires that all dogs and cats 16 weeks of age and older be vaccinated for rabies and registered with their county. If an animal bites a person or your pet is bitten by another animal, the local animal control must be contacted for quarantine information.”
More information is available through the IDPH.