What to Know: Rabies in the Wild

We had a pretty big scare the other day.  The kids ran to the hay barn and I was slightly behind them.  I heard them scooping up hay and I was worried they were going to throw it down the hay loft without me there to catch them if they fell.  I ran in there and they were each holding their fist full of hay.  I walked over to them and saw a downed bat right where they scooped up the hay from.  A little worried, my brain went to all I know about bats. So in case you don't know, here's some information so you can protect your own kids.  

Bat Bites

Bats are interesting creatures in that they fly and skim to eat bugs.  Due to the way they eat, when bats bite humans, many times the humans do not even feel the bite.  There also may be no discernable marks on your skin.  I was calling everyone I could about possible rabies exposure, and when I finally got ahold of a person, they even commented, "Unless you see the bat literally hanging off your kids fingers, it's impossible to know if they were bit." So unfortunately, rabies can be spread without the person being aware. 

Rabies and Shots

Rabies is a crazy disease, where once you show symptoms - it's too late.  To be on the safe side, most doctors will give rabies shots just in case.  There's a 100% fatality rate once the patient shows symptoms.  When I found the bat on the ground still alive, then another right next to it, I became concerned that the kids were bit, I wouldn't know, and if I didn't get them the shot, by the time I knew they had rabies they would be dead.  However, the rabies shot is so hardcore that many would like to avoid it unless it was confirmed that they were actually bit and the bats had rabies. 

Who to Call

The next problem happened because this happened on a Saturday.  I called literally everyone.  I called Public Health and talked to an office aide who told me no one was in the building, I called the after hours number to leave a message, Walworth County Public Health, the state public health, etc.  Finally I got ahold of the state veterinarian.  I didn't even know the state had a state veterinarian, but she was very helpful.  She was the one who told me about if the bat wasn't hanging off the finger it was hard to know.  She tried a few phone numbers herself and couldn't get ahold of anyone.  Finally, she said, "If they were my kids, I'd believe you could wait until Monday.  You've got about a week before symptoms might show up, so I'd wait until someone finally answers the phone."  I decided to take her advice, and on Monday I called Walworth Public Health.  

Here's what I learned.  Apparently I could take the bats there or to a any veterinarian and they would send it in for testing.  A vet is the preferred method because they can euthanize the bats.   Which means on Saturday I could have taken these bats to the emergency vet and they would have handled it then, instead of me making so many phone calls.  So if you are ever in a similar situation, skip the call to Public Health, and just call your local vet to make sure they will do it for you.  


So we got really lucky, neither one of the bats had rabies, so our kids did not need to get the rabies shots.  We are all healthy and now I know what to do if we every find sick bats on the property again.  I don't know what to do about the fact that I won't know if the kids are bitten, since you can't see marks, but that's a problem for a another day. Hopefully you learned something and can protect your family in the future!