Case of Possible Bat Rabies Exposure Highlights Need for Greater Public Awareness

Tompkins County Seeks Individual for Post-Exposure Treatment After Bat Tests Positive for Rabies

ALBANY, NY (Aug 28, 2008) – State Health Commissioner Richard F. Daines, M.D., today urged all New Yorkers to know how to prevent rabies exposure and respond in the event of a possible rabies exposure following a search this week for a man who handled a bat that later tested positive for rabies.

Testing conducted at the State Health Department's rabies laboratory in Albany confirmed this week that the bat handled by the man was positive for rabies. The Tompkins County Health Department was seeking the unidentified man for post-exposure treatment with rabies vaccine, which is effective in preventing the onset of rabies if begun within a few days of exposure. Rabies is almost 100 percent fatal without post-exposure treatment.

On Sunday while walking a dog in a park in Ithaca, a man was observed picking up and handling a bat and remarking that he had been bitten. The man, however, put the bat down and exited the park. An alert bystander who witnessed the exposure contacted the county health department, which picked up and submitted the bat for testing at the state rabies laboratory, where it was confirmed positive for rabies.

"Any bat that has contact with a person or that flies into them in any circumstance could be rabid, even if it looks healthy," said Commissioner Daines. "Any such exposure should be evaluated immediately for preventive treatment, which is often recommended in these circumstances unless the bat can be tested for rabies and found to be negative."

A bat that is active during the 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 even more likely to be rabid, Dr. Daines said. Anyone who has questions about a possible bat exposure should contact their local health department or health care provider.

To avoid the risk of rabies, Commissioner Daines urged New Yorkers to avoid contact with bats, and safely capture any bat that may have come in contact with humans or pets, so that it can be tested. Information on rabies and rabies prevention, including a video on how to catch a bat and submit it for testing, is available on the State Health Department's website at http://www.nyhealth.gov/diseases/communicable/zoonoses/rabies/

Additional information is also available at the state rabies laboratory website at www.wadsworth.org/rabies/