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Officials say bats not a big rabies threat

Susie Vasquez

GARDNERVILLE – A Douglas County woman was bitten by a rabid bat recently, but the incident is a rare one and the animals don’t pose a significant threat, said Dr. Anette Rink, director of animal disease and food safety with the Nevada Department of Agriculture.

The Douglas resident is being treated for rabies and it’s very fortunate the rabid bat was caught for testing, Rink said.

“That’s preferable to a child subsequently being affected or the bat not being found,” she said.

“This was a freak incident. We don’t often hear stories like that associated with a positive bat. People find dead bats on their porch or garage, or occasionally in their homes.”

People sometimes find bats that are disoriented or screeching. Those are the symptoms of a bat that tests positive for the disease. Of the 400 submissions from all over the state every year, between 10 and 12 are positive, Rink said.

“This isn’t a huge problem,” she said. “Bats are very useful animals. They’re ecologically very important and make a huge contribution toward reducing insect loads.”

Bat droppings in caves support whole ecosystems of unique organisms, including bacteria useful in detoxifying wastes, according to information from the Nevada Department of Wildlife.

Bats are endemic throughout Nevada, where deserted mine shafts and cliffs make good habitat. Most species have adapted well to urban life and also roost in bridges, trees and houses. About 24 different species can be found here and just a couple of those are endangered, Rink said.

Several strains of the rabies virus exist and for the most part, different viruses affect different animals. The bat strain is the one most commonly found in Nevada, but the virus isn’t easily transmitted to other species, like skunks or raccoons.

“If the bat virus does cross the species barrier, it won’t lead to a rabies epidemic,” she said. “If a rabid raccoon was imported to Nevada from the east coast we could have a rabies epidemic here. That doesn’t happen because we don’t allow the importation of raccoons or skunks into Nevada.”

Animals contracting the disease don’t necessarily die. Bats can live for an indefinite period and an epidemic in a population of African wild dogs in the 1980s and 1990s did not prove fatal to all animals, Rink said.

“The dog population was decimated but not extinguished by any standard,” she said.

Rabies has not been detected in a domestic pet in 20 years, but that’s no reason to stop getting pets vaccinated, Rink said.

“Even indoor cats should be vaccinated,” she said. “Unless your house is hermetically sealed, there’s always a chance a rabid bat could fly in.”


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