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Cause of rise in rabid bats unexplained

Public warned to not touch animals

Posted: September 3, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: September 3, 2012 2:00 a.m.
 

The number of rabid bats found in the Santa Clarita Valley and throughout Los Angeles County has hit record highs for the second summer in a row, and county health officials say they can’t explain why.

Forty-three rabid bats had been found in Los Angeles County this year by Friday, including 13 in the Santa Clarita Valley. Last year saw 38 rabid bats countywide, with 15 discovered in the Santa Clarita Valley.

Before 2011, eight to 10 rabid bats were typically found in L.A. County each year. The past two years have been the highest on record since the county started keeping track in the 1960s.

“We still don’t know what this means,” said Emily Beeler, a veterinarian with veterinary public health, a division of the Los Angeles County Public Health Department. “There’s not a lot of money sloshing around for bat research.”

Beeler said it’s normal to see an uptick in rabid bats during August because that’s when younger bats with weak immune systems learn to fly.

“The timing of the increase is normal,” she said. “The number of infected animals is not normal.”

Beeler said it isn’t her office’s job to study bat trends, although workers there are comparing notes with bat experts to better understand the reason for the increase.

“We want to prevent instances of people contracting rabies,” she said. “It concerns us that we still hear cases of people handling bats and they don’t know that bats carry rabies.”

Santa Clarita Valley residents should call county animal control officers if they find a bat on the ground in a populated area, Beeler said. If people find a bat out in the wilderness, they should just leave it alone, she said.

Residents should also patch any holes in their roofs to prevent bat colonies from roosting in their attics. Bats are federally protected and have to be removed by a professional after the baby bats are able to fly away, she said.

“The most important thing is to never touch bats,” Beeler said. “Don’t let your kids or pets touch them.”

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