Migrating Bats Pose Rabies Threat

Migrating Bats Pose Rabies Threat

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PROVO, Utah (AP) -- Migrating bats are moving through Utah and leaving rabies in their path, Utah County Health Department officials say.

The migration occurs annually as the bats make their way to warmer air. The state sees thousands of the winged rodents coming through the state each year, said Dr. Joseph Miner, the health department's executive director.

But this year brings special concern about how the bats and other animals that might carry rabies should be handled. In five recent cases, human exposure to potentially rabid animals resulted in rabies vaccinations that might have been unnecessary.

"In every one of the cases we could have tested the animal but because the animals were set free we could not," said Justin Jones, a spokesman for the health department.

That has officials wanting to get the word out that the public should contact the department if they find a bat so lab tests can confirm if a rabies vaccination is necessary.

"We just want people to be aware and cautious," said Lynn Flinders, director of epidemiology for the department. "We'd rather have people call and ask questions than not call and suffer serious consequences."

In more than once instance, Miner said, the bats had entered children's bedrooms, where someone was able to capture the bats but let them go before rabies testing could be conducted.

"Even though there are no bites or scratches on a person, the presence of a bat is evidence of exposure," Miner said. "Just saliva can be dangerous."

Since the animals couldn't be tested, exposed patients had to endure the expensive and potentially risky vaccination process.

Exposed humans who start the $1,200 vaccination process within 10 days of exposure have a nearly 100 percent chance of survival. There hasn't been a human rabies case in Utah since 1928.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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