The Ottawa County Department of Public Health (OCDPH) has received notification from the Michigan Bureau of Laboratories (BOL) that three bats recently submitted from Ottawa County have tested positive for rabies. Two of these bats were from the Holland area and one was from the Hudsonville area. Before these cases, there had been a total of only two reported cases of rabies in bats in Ottawa County in the past five years. Although our surrounding counties have not noted an increase in positive cases, consultants at the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) have reported the current number of bats testing positive for rabies statewide is trending very close to the exceptionally high number recorded in 2007 when there were 199 cases of rabies in bats and 11 cases in other animals. Residents are reminded to adopt practices that protect their families and animals from rabies. This is especially important with any bats found in the house.
Rabies is a viral disease of mammals that is transmitted through the bite or scratch of an infected animal.
Bats and skunks are the most common carriers of rabies in Michigan. Local health departments experience an increase in calls about bat encounters during the warm weather months between May and September. During this time, bats are more active, searching for food and rearing their young. While bats are beneficial to our ecosystem, they are also one of the species of animal that is a natural host for the rabies virus.
People or pets usually get exposed to rabies when they are bitten by an infected animal. Other situations that may present a risk are when a bat is found in a room with people who have been asleep, or a bat is found with an unattended child or impaired adult who cannot be sure they didn’t have contact with the bat. In these cases, it is important to collect the bat for rabies testing. Rabies is fatal to humans. Post-exposure treatment is given to people who are exposed to a potentially rabid animal. Treatment is not necessary if the animal tests negative for rabies.
Protect your family and pets from rabies by taking these simple steps:
• Avoid contact with wild animals. Do not keep wild animals as pets and do not try to rehabilitate wild animals yourself. Wild animals can carry rabies without looking sick.
• If a person comes in contact with a bat, they should call the OCDPH at 616-396-5266 before they release or dispose of them.
• If you are bitten or scratched by an animal, seek immediate medical attention.
• If you find a bat in your home, safely confine or collect the bat if possible and contact your local health department to determine if it should be tested for rabies. More information on how to collect a bat safely can be found here or in this YouTube video.
• If you are unable or would prefer not to confine or collect a bat yourself, you may consider hiring a bat/wildlife removal service.
• Protect your pets by getting them vaccinated against rabies. Even cats that live indoors and never go outside can encounter a bat that gets inside the home.
• If your animal is bitten or scratched by a wild animal, or if you believe they have had unsupervised contact with wildlife, contact your veterinarian as soon as possible. Even if your pet is currently vaccinated against rabies, additional actions may need to be taken to prevent them from becoming infected. If possible, safely confine or capture the wild animal without touching it and contact your local animal control officer or veterinarian, as the animal may need to be tested for rabies.
More information about rabies and a map of rabies positive animals in Michigan can be found at Michigan.gov/rabies.