State Health Commissioner Demonstrates how to Catch a Bat in Recognition of Rabies Awareness Month

Urges Rabies Testing of Bats That Come in Contact with Humans

ALBANY, N.Y. (June 19, 2008) – State Health Commissioner Richard F. Daines, M.D., today urged New Yorkers to avoid the risk of rabies and rabies treatment by capturing and submitting for laboratory testing any bat found in their home that may have come in contact with humans or pets.

"Governor Paterson has declared June Rabies Awareness Month in recognition that the summer months bring New Yorkers in closer contact with wildlife and, potentially, rabies," said Commissioner Daines. "In recent years there has been a significant increase in the number of human rabies treatments following bat exposures. Many of these treatments could have been avoided had the bat been captured and tested negative for rabies."

Dr. Daines noted that bats play an important role in our ecosystem, especially by eating insects, including agricultural pests. But because rabies is a fatal disease and most of the recent human rabies deaths in the U.S. have been caused by rabies from bats, he urged New Yorkers to take steps to protect their health.

Rabid bats were responsible for 38 of 41 human rabies cases in the nation since 1990. Three human rabies cases, all fatal, have been diagnosed in New York State since 1993. Two cases involved young girls infected with bat rabies and the third case involved an adult male infected with dog rabies in Africa.

Rabid bats have been found in all of New York's 62 counties. Each year, more than 1,400 New Yorkers undergo rabies treatment because the bat they were exposed to was NOT caught for testing. About 3 percent – or 1 in 33 -- of bats tested in New York State are found to have rabies.

"Any bat that someone has contact with or that flies into them in any circumstance could be rabid, even if it looks healthy," said Dr. Daines. "However, a bat that is active by day, is unable to fly, or is found in a place where bats are not usually seen -- such as a room in your home -- is more likely to be rabid."

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and rabies specialists recommend that persons who awake to find a bat in their room should make every effort to capture the bat safely and get it tested for rabies to avoid having to consider rabies treatment.

At the State Health Department's Wadsworth Center Griffin Laboratory in Guilderland, where rabies testing is conducted, Dr. Daines demonstrated the proper technique for capturing a bat. He also displayed the bat's small, sharp teeth to emphasize that a sleeping person or a pet may be bitten by a bat without leaving a noticeable bite mark.

"Bats have small teeth that may leave marks that are not easily seen," said Dr. Daines. "People should avoid handling a bat, because they may be bitten but not notice a wound. If you awake and find a bat in your room or see a bat in the room of an unattended child or mentally impaired person, safely capture the bat and have the bat tested."

After capturing a bat, New Yorkers should call their county or city health department for help in getting the bat tested at the state laboratory. If the bat is not successfully captured, the county or city health department should be contacted along with a health care provider to consider the possible need for rabies treatment.

In many years, New York State leads the nation in the number of rabid animals, with 559 animals confirmed with rabies in 2007. Last year, more than 3,000 New Yorkers underwent a month-long rabies treatment due to bites, scratches or mucous membrane exposures to saliva or nervous tissue from potentially rabid animals. More than three-quarters of the treatments were related to animals not captured. If captured, the rabies status of an animal can be determined by 10-day observation for domestic animals or rabies testing for wildlife.

"Capturing the animal allows the limited supply of human rabies vaccine to be prioritized to those people exposed to rabid animals, while preventing people in contact with rabies-negative animals from receiving unnecessary treatment," said Dr. Daines.

Rabies prevention and control in New York State takes several approaches, including public education, pet vaccination, distribution of wildlife rabies vaccine bait in certain areas, and laboratory testing of animals when human exposure occurs.

A new 80-second video on the proper technique for safely capturing a bat found in one's home is available on the State Health Department website at http://www.nyhealth.gov/diseases/communicable/zoonoses/rabies/

More information about rabies is also available at www.wadsworth.org/rabies/