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Protecting yourself from rabies while helping protect a threatened species

Local wildlife experts say you should not be afraid when you see a bat, but you should be educated about the virus
Published: Jul. 26, 2021 at 6:14 PM EDT
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TOLEDO, Ohio (WTVG) - Lucas County has recorded its first cases of rabies in 2021. As we first reported last week, two bats in Sylvania Township recently tested positive for the disease. There are some things you can do to protect yourself, but experts say it’s also important to not be afraid or concerned just because you see a bat.

Laura Zitzelberger is one of the founder’s of Nature’s Nursery. The Whitehouse rehabilitation center cares for thousands of injured and orphaned wild animals every year.

“Rabies is something that needs to be taken seriously, because it can be fatal disease. It does occur occasionally around here. It is not something you need to be in fear of. It is something you need to be educated, conscious and practical about.”

The virus affects the nervous system in mammals, and humans can contract it from a bite, scratch, or saliva of an infected animal. It can be treated, but can be fatal if left untreated. The bites and scratches from bats can be very small and may not be immediately visible to or felt by an injured person.

“If you have an infant in your house or someone who cannot speak, and you find a bat, it is best to have it tested. That’s because they can’t tell you if they were bitten. Bat bites can easily go unnoticed.”

Its not just bats, any mammal can carry rabies. And a very small percentage of the bat population actually has the disease.

“I think they estimate that less than 1/2 of 1% of bats will ever get rabies.”

Zitzelberger says it’s also important to remember what bats do to make life better for all of us.

“They can eat thousands of insects an hour, and they do that all night. They eat mosquitoes that annoy us, and some of the bugs that eat crops. They really help us balance the ecosystem. They also help us not have to use all kinds of chemical every where to keep us safe.”

Some bats have even helped with human medicine. “We have heart medicine available to us because of an anticoagulant found in vampire bat saliva.’

Zitzelberger says if you do find a bat in your home or on the ground, “Please don’t just pick up a bat your find on the ground. Call us, and we will help you get them in a container without having contact with it. "

And there are things you can do to help keep them in your yard and not your home.

“Put up bat houses. Give the bats places to stay where they are not as likely to get into your home. They are simple wooden structures that can go on the side of your house or on a pole.”

On a side note, the bat population in our region and around the world has been declining for decades, but that decline has been accelerated in recent years. That’s due to a number of factors including loss of habitat and disease. So wildlife experts say protecting each and every healthy bat is critical.

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