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September 3, 2008

Marla Augustine, Communications and Legislative Services, (402) 471-4047 or

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DHHS Veterinarian: Watch Out for Bats

Lincoln—A limited supply of rabies vaccine has made it especially important that people not come into contact with bats that might carry rabies.

"It’s a shortage nationwide," according to Dr. Annette Bredthuaer, the state’s public health veterinarian, "so it’s especially important that people reduce their risk by not handling bats. Someone with a questionable exposure might receive vaccine when there are people who have been bitten by bats that especially need it. No one has gone without yet, but the national supply of vaccine is rapidly being depleted."

Dr. Bredthauer said that this is the time of year people are more likely to come into contact with bats, and they should take care not to expose themselves to rabies.

"Late summer and fall is the time of year that bats are found in houses and apartments in increasing numbers," she said. "This is partly because their time for migration or hibernation is coming and partly because the young bats raised this summer become easily disoriented and enter buildings."

Cases of human rabies are rare in the U.S. The last human case in Nebraska was reported in 1926.

Bats carry the rabies virus in their saliva. Bat bites are very superficial and easily overlooked. People can be bitten while they are asleep and not be aware of it, Dr. Bredthauer said.

Bats should be caught for testing if:

  • one is found in a room where someone is sleeping, or
  • a bat is found in a room with individuals who cannot communicate about any bat contact, such as small children or people with certain disabilities, or
  • someone has a physical encounter with a bat, such as a collision or stepping on a bat.

"Don’t shoo a bat out the window if you think it’s been in a room with a sleeping person," Dr. Bredthauer said. "It should be tested for rabies."

If there is a local animal control authority, contact it first before any attempt to catch a bat.

Bats can be captured when they land on walls or curtains. If a butterfly net is available, it can be placed over the bat and a stiff piece of cardboard slid between the net and the wall, then the bat can be placed in a container. If no net is available, the same process can be performed with a large jar or container.

Never strike a bat because it is important that the bat’s brain be intact for testing, Dr. Bredthauer said. Submit the bat for testing through an animal control agency, a veterinarian or the local health department. (A list of local health departments can be found at

People who have had contact with bats that can’t be caught or located should contact their physician to see if they should have preventive treatment.

If you see a bat on the ground, leave it alone, Dr. Bredthauer said.

So far this year, nine bats have been found to carry rabies in Nebraska. Last year 14 bats were found to have rabies, compared to three in 2006 and five the year before.

While the rabies virus is most commonly found in bats and skunks, it is also found in raccoons and domestic animals like dogs, cats and horses.

The total number of animal rabies cases is 33 so far this year, compared to the total of 31 for all of last year, 35 in 2006 and 52 cases in 2005.

Rabies cases in animals come in cycles, with numbers rising and falling from year to year .

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