Another bat has tested positive for rabies in Teton County, the second confirmed rabid bat in more than 17 years.
“One was unprecedented,” said veterinarian Dan Forman, who’s also on the Teton District Board of Health. “Two was as unprecedented.”
Until August there had not been a reported case of a rabid bat in Teton County as far back as records had been kept.
Testing for rabies in animals wasn’t done in an organized manner statewide before 2000. On average eight to 10 rabid bats are discovered in Wyoming every year.
Wyoming’s first recorded human case of rabies was in 2015, when a Fremont County woman died of the disease. She didn’t know she had a bat bite. Two to three cases of humans contracting rabies are reported nationally each year.
Teton County Public Health response coordinator Rachael Wheeler said the local event was “definitely a rarity.” But no one knows for sure if the increase in rabid bats is due to awareness and more people bringing in bats to be tested, or an increase in local bats carrying rabies.
Forman said, “We’re breaking new ground now” with the sudden uptick in confirmed rabies-positive bats. But it is unclear what is the cause, especially with such a small sample size of about 15 bats.
“It’s probably a combination of some unknown epidemiological factors as well as community awareness and therefore more submissions,” Forman said. “And with more submissions, the likelihood of a positive result increases.”
Unlike the time Randall Large found a bat under his pillow Aug. 30, this bat is believed to have had no human contact. Forman said it was found on an “outbuilding” of property in Wilson that borders the Snake River.
“The bat, in broad daylight, was aggressively vocalizing on a window screen,” Forman said.
A caretaker for the property safely collected the bat and brought it to Spring Creek Animal Hospital on Sept. 13.
“The key is not to use your hands,” Forman said. “Use a container to try to capture it, and then cover it with a lid right away.”
If that doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, there are a few local pest control options. See the sidebar for information.
The bat was humanely euthanized and overnighted to a state veterinary laboratory in Laramie. There, Forman said “extremely accurate” direct fluorescent antibody testing is done on a brain tissue sample to determine if an animal is rabid.
Two more bats were submitted to Spring Creek Animal Hospital for testing Monday. One came back negative, and another was unsuitable for testing.
“It’s been bat central around here,” Forman said.
The key, experts say, is not to be fearful of bats. Most don’t have rabies. In 2011 only 6 percent of bats tested nationwide had rabies, and state veterinarian Karl Musgrave said that less than 1 percent of the bats in Wyoming are typically affected by rabies.
Bats are also a vital part of the environment in Jackson.
“They’re essential for ecosystems in general, and extremely beneficial,” Forman said. “They kill so many insects and help the environment in so many ways. But knowledge is power, and there shouldn’t be fear. There should be respect.”
Forman, Wheeler and others want to promote education and awareness.
“We want to make sure people check to make sure they have screens on their windows and no holes leading to the outside,” Wheeler said. “We also want to make sure that domestic pets are vaccinated so you never have to worry about that.”
Rabies is almost always fatal, but treatment can prevent death if it is started as soon as possible, ideally immediately after exposure but certainly within 10 days. That’s why it’s important to take bat exposure seriously, especially because bite marks are often so small they can’t be detected.
The Centers for Disease Control recommends that treatment be given if you wake up in a room where a bat is present, an adult witnesses a bat in a room with a child or an intoxicated individual or if anyone contacts a bat.
Bats can gain entry into your house through a chimney, open window, eaves or an attic.
“It’s always a good idea to check for any access points in your roof,” Forman said.
Visit http://www.tetonwyo.org/QuickLinks.aspx?CID=124 for more information about bats, rabies, how to keep bats out of your house and what to do if you come into contact with a bat.
“We’re not overrun by rabid bats,” Forman said. “It’s just something for us to be aware of.”