RIVERSIDE – Riverside County animal control and health officials today reminded residents to avoid handling bats to prevent possible exposure to rabies.
The Departments of Animal Services and Public Health issued a joint statement emphasizing the need for extra care when coming into contact with bats, citing recent encounters during which people handled the creatures — one of which tested positive for rabies.
“While it is very rare in humans, rabies is a potentially fatal illness, so it is important the community understand how serious this can be,” said Barbara Cole, an infectious diseases specialist for the county health department. “People can avoid problems by taking some basic precautions.”
She cited a federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendation to “love your own, (but) leave other animals alone.”
On Aug. 7, a southwest county resident preparing for a trip at daybreak failed to see a bat fly into her pickup truck as she loaded the vehicle and later put her hand in a cup holder where the bat had landed, resulting in a bite to one of her fingers.
The bat tested positive for rabies, and the woman had to undergo treatment at a Corona-area hospital, according to Department of Animal Services spokesman John Welsh.
He said that on Tuesday, a group of about eight people, including children, in Lake Elsinore were exposed to a potentially rabid bat, which someone found and placed in a box.
“It is believed the bat was being rubbed as if a pet,” Welsh said.
“The incident is still being investigated by health officials to determine the exact number of people possibly exposed.”
There have been no recorded cases of human rabies infection from bat bites in the county. But according to Welsh, in the last five years, four bats handled by residents tested positive for rabies, and seven bats to which pets were exposed also tested positive.
“It’s unusual to discover a bat during the daytime hours, and usually these are bats that are infected with rabies,” Welsh said. “They may appear dead, but when touched surprise people with a nasty bite.”
According to health officials, rabies exposure is possible without an actual bite, and can include contact with bat saliva or feces.
Anyone who finds a bat should contact animal services for disposal assistance.
Those who fear they may have been exposed to a rabid bat are urged to contact their healthcare provider, or the county’s disease control line at (951) 358-5107.