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Ventura County officials to bring in a bat exterminator

July 21, 2011 |  6:41 pm

Ventura County officials are planning to bring a bat exterminator to four houses near Moorpark College where investigators have tracked colonies of rabid bats.

The exterminator will be out in the neighborhood Friday or Monday, said John Brand, a Moorpark city management analyst, in an interview Thursday.

About a dozen bats were collected over a period of two months from four homes near Moorpark College, and 10 tested positive for rabies, Brand said.

"In a typical year, all Ventura County might have seven or eight [rabid] bats," he said. "Now we’ve collected 10 in a 60-day period in one neighborhood."

Los Angeles County has also seen a larger number than normal of rabid bats so far this year, the county health department said Thursday. Twelve rabid bats have been found so far this year. In typical years, eight to 10 rabid bats are found, the department said.

Clusters of rabid bats are not unusual because the disease can spread through bat colonies, said Dr. Karen Ehnert, acting director for the Veterinary Public Health and Rabies Control Program of L.A. County.

The cases in L.A. County happen to be more scattered: in Palmdale, a bat found in an airplane hangar; in Saugus, a bat found on the ground in daylight in a parking lot; in Bellflower, a bat dead on a front porch; in Cerritos, a bat on the ground at a high school; in Glendale, a bat in an elevator shaft of an apartment complex.

In Moorpark, however, animal-control investigators have narrowed the origin down to the four houses near Moorpark College, said Brand.

“One house is the most suspect,” he said. “We know bats are roosting there and have collected rabies samples” from the home.

City workers, through a lengthy investigation taking place mostly at dusk, when bats leave their nests, discovered the colonies in the four houses. “It’s just footwork and a little bit of sleuthing on the part of our animal control staff,” Brand said.

Brand said the bat exterminators will capture the bats using a mesh that allowed bats to fly out but not back into their nests. The bats will be channeled into a container and removed. A roofing contractor will lift the houses’ Spanish tile under which the bats are nesting, and decontaminate the nest areas, he said.

Rabies is fatal for bats and people, but bats can live with the disease for a longer period.

As with other mammals, rabies alters behavior: Bats lose their ability to fly, and the animals are more likely to be seen and to be visible in unusual places and at unusual times, such as in daylight.

Unvaccinated pets exposed to rabid animals need to be quarantined for six months, a challenging task for owners. And even with follow-up shots, the pets still could contract rabies.

On the ground, common bats resemble rodents, making them attractive to dogs and cats. In Santa Clarita, a dog was found carrying a rabid bat in its mouth. The owners euthanized their dog after its exposure.

Dogs and cats should be vaccinated initially at four months, given a booster in one year and subsequent boosters every three years.

“It’s a very good vaccine,” Ehnert said. “There is no reason people shouldn’t get their dogs and cats vaccinated.”

Low-cost vaccinations are available at special clinics.

Even vaccinated animals need to be quarantined for a month after exposure to rabies.

In Los Angeles, a family of eight needed follow-up shots after being exposed to a bat found stuck to a sticky rat trap in a downtown apartment.

Bats are protected animals that provide a valuable insect-control service, officials said, but they must be approached with caution, if at all, even though only a tiny percentage carry rabies in the wild.

Local health officials do not test a representative population of bats. But typically, about 15% of tested bats, which usually are examined because they have come to the attention of local residents, have rabies, Ehnert said.

Rabies can be transmitted through bat saliva, yet their bites are so small they can go unnoticed. And that atmospheric mist that fills caves with large bat populations is frequently a cloud of bat saliva. Rabies also can be transmitted through inhaled bat saliva, Ehnert said.

The number of rabid bats in Orange County appears to be tracking a typical year. To date, eight of 49 bats tested in Orange County were rabid. In 2010, 18 of 96 tested positive for rabies.

-- Sam Quinones and Howard Blume


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Photo: Bats are living in the roof tiles of the Moorpark home of Steve Spence, pictured with his girlfriend, Miram Quintero. Spence was bitten by a bat Sunday evening and is undergoing treatment for rabies. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times