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Bat Encounters: What to do if you find a bat

4:37 AM, May 14, 2007   |    comments
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Wear thick leather gloves for protection. Allow the bat to calm down and let it land or settle someplace. Then put the container over it and slide some cardboard or paper underneath it. If there has been no physical contact of any kind, take the bat outside and carefully release it. Lay the container on its side near a tree or bush to allow the bat to crawl to safety. If there has been contact, or it can't be ruled out, seal the container very well (duct tape works well) because bats can get through very small openings. Then set it in a cool dark place. Do not try to feed or give the bat water. For dead bats, use a shovel to pick up the bat and place it in a plastic bag for disposal or testing. Call your local health department or animal control agency who will assess the situation, make a determination as to whether that bat should be tested, and can make arrangements to get it to a lab for testing if necessary.

What are my rights?

Colorado Wildlife Regulations:

Chapter 10 – Non-game Wildlife, Article 1-#1000 – 5. Bats, mice except Preble's meadow jumping mouse, opossums, voles, rats, and ground squirrels may be captured or killed when creating a nuisance or causing property damage.

Colorado law currently provides for the legal capture or killing of some nuisance wildlife. A nuisance bat can be one that enters a building of any kind. However, while it is legal to kill a nuisance bat, we do not endorse this strategy from a wildlife conservation viewpoint, and because it does not necessarily mean an end to the bat problem. The most common bat nuisance problems are either associated with maternity roosts (where females are raising their young and living in the building), or individuals/groups of bats in transit, typically during late summer or fall, when bats begin migration for warmer areas or hibernation. Killing bats that are living in your building will not prevent bats from re-colonizing your building at a later date. Therefore, excluding bat entry into your building is the best and most effective means of dealing with this type of bat problem. Bats in transit are a temporary problem, and can be removed as described below. If it is necessary to kill a bat, and you can't kill the bat yourself, pest control companies can be located in your local yellow pages.

What are my options if I find a bat in my house?

Depending on the situation, there are several options. The most important factor is to determine whether the bat may have bitten or been in physical contact with a person or a pet. If a bite has occurred or cannot be completely ruled out, the bat should NOT be released and the health department or animal control should be contacted to determine if the bat needs to be tested. Bat bites can be very minor and often may not be visible, so the absence of a wound does not exclude the possibility of a bite. Circumstances that usually warrant testing include finding a bat alone with a young child, pet or incapacitated person, awaking to find a bat in the bedroom, handling a bat with bare hands or other physical contact with bare skin or contact with a pet (i.e. in the pet's mouth, pet standing over bat).

Usually, finding a solitary bat in a room is an isolated event; it found a way in but cannot find a way back out. This situation does not usually warrant testing. If it is absolutely certain that there was no bite or physical contact, opening a window and closing off all other exit options and leaving it alone can do the trick. The bat should leave on its own. The bat can also be captured safely using the procedures outlined below and released outside.

If you believe you have a maternity roost or have found multiple bats in the house, the most effective means of control is exclusion. In Colorado this is best done after August when all juveniles have learned to fly and should be gone from the roost. Effort should be made to locate and seal entry points into the living space until the bats can be excluded from the structure. A partial list of bat friendly pest control companies that specialize in exclusion can be found at www.9news.com . These companies do charge for their service. For complete, free guidelines on do-it-yourself bat exclusion, visit Bat Conservation International at: www.batcon.org / Conservation
Programs / Bats in Buildings.

Why are they here?

There are several reasons why you might encounter a bat. In Colorado, the migration periods are spring and fall. You may have a bat that has traveled far and needs a place to rest. If it has taken up roost under your porch eaves or other places on the outside of the house, it leaves at night and sleeps during the day, that is probably a healthy bat doing what a bat should do. If left alone, the bat should be gone in a few days. From May to mid June, you might see baby bats that have been knocked off their roost due to wind, storms, or predators like magpies. In late June to July, you could have juveniles learning to fly. Hot weather could cause bats to move around an attic looking for relief and find their way down into the house. It is also common for a pet, especially cats, to bring a bat into the house. By mid-October, most bats will either be in hibernation or will have migrated south. It's not common, but it is possible for bats to be found year round. For more information visit the Colorado Division of Wildlife at: http://wildlife.state.co.us/WildlifeSpecies/Profiles/Mammals/BatsofColorado/
 
For a list of licensed wildlife rehabilitators visit the CDOW at:
http://wildlife.state.co.us/NR/rdonlyres/C258839A-F504-462C-AB73-F33438BA45B5/0/PUBLICRehabList.pdf  

What are the health risks regarding bats?

Rabies is the main health concern regarding bats. In Colorado, bats are the only rabies host. Rabies is a virus that affects the central nervous system of mammals and causes a fatal illness. The virus is shed in the saliva of an infected animal and is primarily transmitted through bites. Bat rabies is seen throughout Colorado. Approximately 15% of bats submitted for testing each year are positive for rabies, a rate that has been consistent for over 20 years. It should be noted that this is a biased sample, as only bats with human or pet contact or acting abnormally are usually tested. In healthy bat populations, it has been estimated that less than 1% of all bats are infected with rabies.

Rabid bats will be ill and display signs and abnormal behaviors that indicate something is wrong. This can include being active or out in the open during the day, inability to fly or erratic flight, excessive vocalization (chirping, hissing, squeaking), being found on the ground or landing on person. Bats that kids or pets can catch are usually ill and often test positive for rabies. These should all be considered "red flags" in encounters with bats.

Histoplasmosis is another disease often associated with large accumulations of bat and bird droppings. Histoplamosis is a fungus that produces spores that become airborne when contaminated soil is disturbed. Breathing in the spores causes the infection. Histoplasmosis, however, requires a moist, high humidity environment and therefore is not an issue in Colorado due to the arid climate. However, any animal droppings, including bats, can contain other disease organisms. Animal dropping should always be carefully cleaned up using good hygiene practices, especially hand washing. For more information, visit the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment at: http://www.cdphe.state.co.us/index.html

If I need to turn a bat in for testing, what do I do?
If you have a situation where someone has been bitten by a bat, or you can't eliminate the possibility, or your pet has had contact with a bat, do not let the bat go. Safely contain the bat if possible and contact the local health department or animal control agency. If they determine testing is needed, they can submit the bat for testing. Bat bites are a medical urgency – preventative treatment needs to be started within a couple days if the bat tests positive or is not available for testing. Rabies testing is conducted daily at the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment (CDPHE) laboratory and can be done on weekends when necessary. The rabies test takes about 3 hours to complete. There is a $50 charge for the rabies test.

What should I do if I have been exposed to rabies?

Persons exposed to rabies need to complete a series of preventative rabies shots. This requires 6-8 shots given over a period of four weeks. Shots are no longer given in the stomach; they are given in the arm and buttocks and have very mild side effects. When started in a timely manner, preventative treatment is extremely effective. However, if treatment is delayed or not given and a person develops symptoms of rabies, the disease is considered 100% fatal. The rabies shots are expensive, usually costing several thousand dollars per person, so it is important to test the bat if possible as a negative test eliminates the need for treatment. Your physician, in consultation with the health department, can arrange for rabies treatment when necessary.

How do I protect my pets?

The best way to protect dogs and cats is to keep their rabies vaccinations current. This includes "indoor only" cats as bats can find their way into houses. Currently vaccinated pets exposed to rabies will get a rabies booster shot and be sent home for observation. Unvaccinated animals exposed to rabies will either need to be euthanized or be placed in long term quarantine. Pets should not be allowed to roam freely.

Protocol for law enforcement and health officials:
Protocols for managing animal bites or submitting bats for rabies testing are available on the CDPHE website: http://www.cdphe.state.co.us/dc/Zoonosis/rabies/index.html.

Consultation on bat bites and rabies can be obtained through the local health department or by contacting CDPHE at 303-692-2700 (regular business hours) or 303-370-9395 (after hour emergencies).

Editor's note: This story was written by Sophia Oglesby of the Colorado Division of Wildlife. Click here to send her an e-mail.

(Copyright KUSA*TV, All Rights Reserved. Article reprinted with permission from the Colorado Division of Wildlife)

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