Bat encounters can put you at risk for rabies. Image Credit: Contributed

Risk of rabies

Bat bites can expose you potentially fatal disease.

Whether you think bats are creepy or cute, one thing for sure is you don’t want to come in physical contact with them.

The reason is bats are the primary carrier of the rabies virus in B.C.

Jennifer Jeyes, a communicable disease specialist with Interior Health working out of Vernon, says rabies is almost always a fatal disease if not treated in time, as it attacks the nervous system.

Jeyes said between four and eight per cent of bats that are tested after coming in contact with people are found to have the rabies virus.

The disease is transmitted when a bat’s saliva comes in contact with a person’s mucus membranes—eyes, nose or mouth—or through a break in the skin caused by a bite.

To learn more: www.bcbats.ca

There is both an antibody remedy and vaccine that can stop the spread of rabies, but quick response to suspected bat bite is critical.

Shots are called for over the first two weeks of a positive diagnosis to prevent the rabies virus from reaching the nervous system.

“Early treatment is crucial to prevent rabies from progressing…the treatment vaccinations must be administered as soon as possible after being exposed to rabies,” Jeyes said.

But the treatment process has become more effective and less needle-invasive over time.

“The days of getting a shot through your bellybutton for 25 days in a row are past,” she said.

“The vaccine injections now go into different muscles, such as upper arm, hip or thigh, depending on the volume that has to be given. For an average healthy person, after two weeks the vaccine and globulin antibody administered is sufficient as your immune system starts producing its own response.”

To learn more: http:www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/environment/pesticides-pest-management/managing-pests/animals/bats

She said there 61 reported cases of potential exposure to rabies within the Interior Health region last year.

Jeyes said if you suspect of being bitten by a bat, contact your public health unit, doctor or go to hospital emergency right away to verify and get treatment. Don’t wait for symptoms to appear.

“We tell people to take it seriously and take precautions to avoid contact with bats,” she added.

“Bats are fascinating creatures, incredibly important to the ecosystem and they eat an enormous quantity of insects, such as mosquitos. But they deserve our respect.”