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Higher than normal number of rabid bats in L.A. County

July 21, 2011 |  1:39 pm

Rabid_bats_2011_072011Twelve animals with rabies, all bats, have been found so far this year in Los Angeles County — a larger number than normal, the county health department said Thursday.

In typical years, eight to 10 rabid bats are found.

A similar rise in rabid bats has been found in Ventura County. The Ventura County Star reported Wednesday that about a dozen bats were collected over a period of two months from four homes near Moorpark College, and 10 tested positive for rabies.

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.

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 shy 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 around a rabid bat in its mouth. The owners euthanized their dog after its exposure.

Dog 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 specially set-up 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.


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— Howard Blume