Rabies is rare, but deadly—take steps to protect yourself and your family.
Written by MaryWade Burnside, Public Information Officer for Monongalia County Health Department
If you’ve seen The Big Chill, a quirky 1983 film by Morgantown’s own megastar writer and director Lawrence Kasdan, you may remember the part where a few characters race up into an attic to ward off a bat.
The scene was played for laughs: “They’re like rats with wings!” and ”They’re harmless. They eat mosquitoes!”
Unfortunately, these days, it’s important to take a bat in your home seriously.
In late July, a bat was found in a southern Monongalia County house. The homeowner brought the bat to Monongalia County Health Department so it could be sent out for testing. It was positive for rabies, a viral and usually fatal illness that is transmitted among mammals via a bite or scratch.
Once this information was posted on social media, MCHD Environmental Health was inundated with more than 50 calls from frightened homeowners. “Apparently, a lot of people have bats in their homes,” says Todd Powroznik, the head of Environmental Health.
As of late last week, MCHD had sent an additional eight bats to the state lab for testing; none of them tested positive. Two more were still being processed.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there’s bad news and good news about bats and rabies. The bad: Bats are the leading cause of rabies deaths in the United States. The good? Most bats don’t have rabies.
Between 2009 and 2018, there were 25 known cases of rabies in humans in the United States. Thirteen of these cases were transmitted by bats—the other cases came from dogs or raccoons. It’s a relief to know that none of these took place in West Virginia. But it’s important to note that only two of the 25 infected individuals survived. Upon the onset of symptoms, rabies is almost always fatal.
So while the risk of being scratched or bitten by a rabid bat is pretty low, the chance of dying from it is pretty high, unless rabies postexposure prophylaxis is administered quickly.
Here’s the takeaway:
- If you wake up to find a bat in your home, even if you don’t think you had an encounter, it’s possible to have been scratched or bitten during sleep. The safest thing to do is to seek out guidance. You can call MCHD Environmental Health at 304.598.5131 to discuss options. It’s also a good idea to contact your health care provider for advice.
- Most importantly, anyone who has been bitten or scratched should immediately go to an emergency department for postexposure prophylaxis.
It might ease your mind to take proactive steps to keep bats from entering your home—such as making sure all holes are sealed properly and attics are closed off. If you like to raise your windows, use secure, high-quality screens.
Please note that, if you want to bring a bat to MCHD Environmental Health for testing, its brain must be intact in order to be tested. Live bats brought to the health department should be in a secure container with a lid. Environmental Health is not located in the main MCHD building—call 304.598.5131 for instructions.