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Health Department Issues Warning About Potentially Rabid Bats

Rabies-vaccine-baiting program for raccoons wraps up this week.

Prompted by recent incidents in which people or pets were potentially exposed to rabid bats, the Allegheny County Health Department is urging residents to report all bats found in the home because of the risk of rabies.

The health department emphasized the importance of reporting bats that are found in areas where people sleep, even when a person is not sure if he or she has been bitten and exposed to the bat's saliva.

Bat bites can be so tiny they may leave no marks visible to the naked eye and so painless they may not even be felt by someone while sleeping, a health department press release said.

Bat encounters should be reported to ACHD immediately by calling 412-687-ACHD (2243).  Health officials will evaluate the risk and test the bat to determine if it’s rabid and anyone should be treated with anti-rabies vaccine.

"When a bat is found, wear a pair of heavy-duty rubber gloves and place a container such as a large bowl or empty coffee can over it, slide a piece of cardboard underneath to trap the bat inside, cover the container with a lid or cap, and then submit the bat to the health department for testing," the press release stated.

In two separate incidents recently involving rabid bats, a woman and a cat were potentially exposed but not infected. As a precaution, the woman was treated with anti-rabies vaccine and the cat given a booster shot and quarantined for three months.

Rabies Vaccine Placed in Bait for Raccoons

The warning about bats comes as the Allegheny County Health Department finishes up its annual , which started Monday and ends Friday.

That program, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as part of a multi-state effort to eradicate raccoon rabies, is in its tenth year in Allegheny County. Three rabid raccoons have been reported in the county so far this year, compared to 23 during all of 2002, the program’s first year. 

“Our program has been very successful, with the number of rabid raccoons steadily declining over the years. But more importantly, curbing rabies in raccoons also significantly reduces the risk of this deadly disease for people and their pets,” said county Health Director Dr. Bruce W. Dixon.

The baits, specially made for raccoons and laced with rabies vaccine, are catsup-sized plastic packets coated with fishmeal or one-square-inch blocks of compressed fishmeal. 

Health department workers, wearing T-shirts and driving vehicles marked to identify them as part of the “Rabies Control Team,” will distribute about 230,000 baits by hand in all 130 municipalities on foot and from vehicles.

Bait will be placed in raccoon habitats, reducing the chances of human exposures to the vaccine. While the risk of infection from an exposure is minimal, ACHD urges people to avoid contact with the bait and never touch it with bare hands.

Anyone who finds a stray bait should pick it up using rubber or latex gloves or a shovel to protect their hands.  If the bait is intact, toss it into a nearby ditch, wooded area or other raccoon habitat.  If it is partially eaten or damaged, place the bait in a plastic bag and dispose of it in the trash. 

“If you touch an intact bait or the liquid vaccine inside, immediately wash your hands and any other exposed area of skin with soap and water,” advised Dixon. “In the unlikely event a blister-like rash should develop, please contact your family doctor.”

The public is asked to keep their pets on a leash, indoors or confined to their property as much as possible during the next two weeks, so the pets do not find and eat the baits instead of raccoons. 

To ensure raccoons are hungry and will eat the bait, the health department also is asking the public to make a special effort to bring any pet food that raccoons might eat indoors.

Residents are also asked to make sure their outdoor garbage containers have secure lids -- perhaps even tied down with a rope or bungee cord -- to keep away raccoons foraging for food.

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