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Rabid bat cases on rise

County officials caution public against handling the creatures

Posted: June 14, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: June 14, 2012 2:00 a.m.
 

Los Angeles County officials said Wednesday that they are experiencing a spike in the number of rabid bats, and advise local residents to leave any bats they find untouched until animal control can respond.

Last year, 38 bats tested positive for rabies in Los Angeles County, making it the highest year since the county began keeping track in the 1960s. Seven bats had been found by this time last year and nine have been found so far this year in LA County, Dr. Karen Ehnert, acting director for LA County veterinary public health.

“I thought it would decrease this year, but we’re remaining high,” Ehnert said. “Within wildlife diseases tend to cycle. Rabies tends to be cyclical.”

The county saw 24 rabid bats in 2007 and then only nine in 2008, Ehnert said. County officials expected a similar drop this year, but already nine bats have been found before the peak month of August.

“Based on previous years we’ve only had a single-year peak,” Ehnert said. “We’ve never had numbers quite like last year.”

If residents see an injured bat on the ground they should cover it with a box and call animal control, so that officers can test it for rabies.

And if a bat colony settles in an attic, it can’t be removed until October or November, Ehnert said. Bats are a federally protected species and can only be moved legally by a contractor after the baby bats are able to fly, she said.

“Nobody knows how they get in houses,” Ehnert said. “They’re amazing creatures.”

Bat colonies in California range from 25 to several hundred bats, Ehnert said. In places like Texas, colonies can swell to more than 10,000 bats, she said.

People can reduce the risk of contracting rabies from a bat in their home by shutting their bedroom door, Ehnert said. If a bat found in a home tests positive for rabies, everyone who could have come in contact with the bat has to be vaccinated, she said.

Ehnert also said people should keep their pets current on their rabies vaccine — including indoor cats.

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