More rabid bats than usual flying LA County skies

When it comes to controlling insect populations, there are few creatures more important than bats. But an apparent spike in rabies among the winged mammals throughout Los Angeles County has concerned public health officials.

LA County's public health department has recorded 45 rabid bats so far in and around Los Angeles County homes. And while that number is relatively small, it’s still 4-1/2 times the number of rabid bats found in a normal year.

The reason for uptick isn’t clear, but it’s prompted health authorities to warn people against touching a sick or injured bat - typically one you'd see on the ground, or flying during daylight hours.

“Children and teens especially should avoid handling bats or other wildlife, even if their intentions are to nurse an injured or ill animal back to health," Jonathan E. Fielding, MD, MPH, LA County's Director of Public Health and Health Officer said in a press release. "If a bat is found near a home, a school, or another area frequented by people or pets it must be reported to the local animal control agency so rabies testing of the bat can be arranged.”

If you find a bat in need of help, the health department advises you cover it with a bucket or box and then call animal control.

The health department also advises people to protect cats and dogs against rabies by making sure their rabies vaccinations are up to date.

And if you think you may have been bit by a sick bat, seek immediate medical attention. Because rabies treatments have become more effective there hasn’t been a human rabies case in LA County in more than 50 years.

Public health authorities also point out that because bats play a vital role in controlling insect populations and the spread of diseases like West Nile virus, they’re federally protected. Bat colonies found in a home’s attic, a commercial building, or other non-living space can only be removed by "humane exclusion," (release), and not by extermination.

For more information about bat exclusions, visit http://www.batcon.org/index.php/bats-a-people/bats-in-buildings.html

For more information about rabid bats, visit http://publichealth.lacounty.gov/vet/rabiesmap2012.htm

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