North Okanagan residents should keep an eye out for bats, the primary carrier of the rabies virus in B.C.
Bats can fly into poorly sealed cabins and homes, or roost in attics. Between four and eight per cent of the bats that are tested after coming into contact with people are found to have the rabies virus.
“If you come into contact with live or dead bats it is very important to avoid touching them,” said Jennifer Jeyes, a communicable disease specialist with the Interior Health Authority.
“And parents should remind their children not to play with or touch bats.”
Last year, 24 people in the IHA region were treated for potential exposure to rabies. Treatment, involving a two-week long period of vaccinations, is most effective when administered as soon as possible after exposure. Without treatment to prevent its onset, rabies is almost always fatal.
“Anyone who has handled a bat should contact their public health unit or their physician right away,” said Jeyes.
”Because bats have tiny sharp teeth and claws their scratches or bites are not always visible and in some cases it can take weeks or even months for symptoms to appear. Early treatment is essential to prevent the disease from progressing – it’s very important to get checked out as soon as possible.”
Do not touch live or dead bats.
Make your home or cabin bat proof. Keep doors and windows closed, make sure window screens don’t have any holes and keep the attic area free of bats by keeping all vents properly screened and by closing off other openings.
If you find a live bat in your home, open the window and close interior doors until the bat leaves.
Seek professional bat-control advice (from a pest control or wildlife specialist) if your work place or home is inhabited by bats.
Avoid locations or activities where bats are likely to be found (e.g. caves).
If you have a pet dog, cat or ferret, make sure they are vaccinated regularly against rabies.
If you have been bitten or scratched:
Wash the wounds with soap and water.
Contact your local public health unit or family doctor immediately.
Call a wildlife or pest control company to capture the bat.
Safely contain the bat in a secure covered container to prevent others from being exposed. Keep the bat in a safe location until public health can arrange to pick it up and test it for rabies.
For more information, go to www.healthlinkbc.ca/healthfiles/hfile07.stm