Bats and Skunks – One Huge Reason to Avoid ‘Em
When I was child, my dad warned us to not touch any bat that you might see on the ground during the day. I saw one, fluttering weakly, in our neighbor's yard. It was obviously not acting normally. I didn't touch it. I remember my dad carefully collecting it and taking it to the Rocky Mountain Lab in Hamilton. It probably had rabies.
Rabies is a fatal disease. Wildlife officials around Montana are again urging people to not handle wild animals this spring, especially bats. Don't feed them, don't let your kids touch them. Bats, skunks and other wild animals are not good "Show and Tell" candidates. Already this year, a rabid skunk was found in Yellowstone County. Last year, the Montana Department of Livestock reported 12 animals that tested positive for rabies.
When a human gets rabies, the cure is not pleasant. It takes a series of shots to eliminate the infection. The Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) said 174 Montanans were recommended to take the shots last year. They might not have been bitten; they may have only touched the animal. Rabies is spread by the saliva of an infected animal. One of the problems is that if the suspect animal cannot be located or tested, then, as a precaution, the human often need to take the shot series.
Vaccinations of our pets have greatly reduced the danger, but one or two people die each year from rabies, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Before the vaccinations in the 1900s, more than 100 people died annually from rabies.
Bats are beneficial in their evening flights, eating lots of insects. However, if you have a bat roosting in your attic, get them out of there. To bat-proof your home, cover doors, windows and chimneys with screens. Jen Miller of Montana DPHHS said, "Any bat that has physical contact with a person, or is found in an area where contact may have occurred but gone undetected, (such as a bedroom with a sleeping adult or child) should be tested for rabies when possible."
If you collect the bat for testing, she warned, "Do not damage the head of the bat, because the brain is needed for the rabies test. If you or your child has any contact with a bat or find a bat in your home, or are bitten or scratched by any wild or stray animal, contact your health care provider or local health department."
And the general warning still applies: If you see any wild animal acting strangely during the daylight hours, leave it alone, and if you think it might be a danger, contact law enforcement.