(Wampsville, NY – Sept. 2012) Two Madison County residents recently received rabies post-exposure prophylaxis treatments unnecessarily because the bats that possibly exposed them to the deadly rabies virus were released instead of being captured for testing.
Any time a person is exposed to the bite, scratch or saliva of a possibly rabid animal and the animal is not available for testing, state Public Health guidelines recommend that RPEP should optimally begin within three to five days from the date of the exposure.
In one of the cases above, a woman was sitting in a church service when she felt something crawling up her neck. Naturally, she grabbed for whatever was on her neck. Two other people near her then caught the bat without touching it and let it go outdoors. The woman chose to receive RPEP shots following a discussion with her physician over her exposure.
In another instance, where yet again a bat was released instead of being captured and tested, a Madison County resident found a bat in the house, picked it up bare-handed and was bitten while throwing it outside. Post-exposure treatment was started right away.
In both cases, the RPEP could have been avoided if the bats were available for testing through the Department of Health’s Wadsworth Laboratory. Shots administered by the local emergency rooms and the Madison County Public Health Department can cost taxpayers over $2,000 if there is no individual health insurance coverage to defray costs.
Rabies post-exposure treatments are administered in a series of four or sometimes five shots given over 14 or 28 days.
If you find a bat in your home and think you or your pets might have come into contact with the animal in some way, CATCH THAT BAT and call the Health Department at 315.366.2526. To learn how best to capture a bat, visit www.healthymadisoncounty.org under Health Information A-Z, then B for “Bat rabies” for the short video “Catch That Bat.”
Virginia Zombek is a public health educator specializing in environmental health issues with the Madison County Department of Health.