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Bats play key roles in ecosystems around the globe, from rain forests to deserts. They eat insects, including some that can cause lots of damage to farms and crops. They pollinate plants and they scatter seed. Studies of bats have contributed to medical advances including the development of navigational aids for the blind.Unfortunately, many local populations of bats have been destroyed and many species are now endangered. The best protection we can offer these unique mammals is to learn more about their habits and recognize the value of living safely with them.
When people think about bats, they often imagine things that are not true. Bats are not blind. They aren t rodents and they aren t birds. They will not suck your blood — and most bats do not have rabies. Because bats are mammals, they can develop rabies, but most do not have the disease.
You can t tell if a bat has rabies just by looking at it; rabies can be confirmed only by having the animal tested in a laboratory. So be safe; never handle a bat.
Any animal bitten or scratched by either a wild, carnivorous mammal or a bat that is not available for testing should be regarded as having been exposed to rabies.
Unvaccinated dogs, cats, and ferrets exposed to a rabid animal should be euthanized immediately. If the owner is unwilling to have this done, the animal should be placed in strict isolation for 6 months and vaccinated 1 month before being released.
Animals with expired vaccinations need to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Dogs and cats that are currently vaccinated are kept under observation for 45 days.
Small mammals such as squirrels, rats, mice, hamsters, guinea pigs, gerbils, chipmunks, rabbits, and hares are almost never found to be infected with rabies and have not been known to cause rabies among humans in the United States. Bites by these animals are usually not considered a risk of rabies unless the animal was sick or behaving in any unusual manner and rabies is widespread in your area.
However, from 1985 through 1994, woodchucks accounted for 86% of the 368 cases of rabies among rodents reported to CDC. Woodchucks or groundhogs (Marmota monax) are the only rodents that may be frequently submitted to state health department because of a suspicion of rabies. In all cases involving rodents, the state or local health department should be consulted before a decision is made to initiate postexposure prophylaxis (PEP).
Each state collects specific information about rabies, and is the best source for information on rabies in your area. In addition, the CDC publishes rabies surveillance data every year for the United States. The report, entitled Rabies Surveillance in the United States, contains information about the number of cases of rabies reported to CDC during the year, the animals reported rabid, maps showing where cases were reported for wild and domestic animals, and distribution maps showing outbreaks of rabies associated with specific animals.
Rabies in humans is 100% preventable through prompt appropriate medical care. Yet, more than 55,000 people, mostly in Africa and Asia, die from rabies every year – a rate of one person every ten minutes.
The most important global source of rabies in humans is from uncontrolled rabies in dogs. Children are often at greatest risk from rabies. They are more likely to be bitten by dogs, and are also more likely to be severely exposed through multiple bites in high-risk sites on the body. Severe exposures make it more difficult to prevent rabies unless access to good medical care is immediately available.
Rabies is found on all continents except Antarctica. In most countries, the risk of rabies in an encounter with an animal and the precautions necessary to prevent rabies are the same as they are in the United States. When traveling, it is always prudent to avoid approaching any wild or domestic animal.
Veterinarians and their staff play an important public health role by monitoring rabies in their community. In addition to vaccinating client animals, they are frequently the primary source of rabies information for their clients.
One to three people die in the United States every year from rabies, usually due to exposures to indigenous rabid bats, skunks, or raccoons, or to exposure to rabid dogs while traveling overseas. For this reason, it is important that rabies be considered in all cases of unexplained encephalitis. Rabies is nearly always fatal once symptoms appear, but it can be prevented almost 100% of the time when postexposure prophylaxis including rabies vaccine and immunoglobulin is administered soon after a rabies exposure occurs.
Testing for rabies in animals is done postmortem and may be necessary to determine the rabies exposure risk to humans. Samples requiring confirmation, variant typing, or formalin-fixed tissues may be sent to the CDC for additional diagnostic testing.