MOUNT VERNON – With three rabid bats identified in Knox County so far this year, public health officials warn residents to avoid contact with the creatures if at all possible.
“If you see a bat, stay away from the bat,” Knox County Environmental Health Director Nate Overholt told the Mount Vernon News. “However, that’s not always possible, as we are finding out.”
In the most recent incident, a woman was cleaning a cabin in Jefferson Township and was bitten when she tried to pick up the bat without wearing gloves, according to a release from Knox Public Health. The woman is not a Knox County resident.
If someone makes contact with a bat, it’s important that it be brought in for testing, if possible, Overholt said. If the bat tests negative for rabies, it could shorten the treatment a person would need to receive. Normally, a person bitten by a bat would start treatment immediately, even before the test results from the captured bat are back from the lab. But the treatments could be suspended if the results are ultimately negative.
“Once the results come back negative, even if you have already started the first series, then we would know we don’t have to continue on with that,” Overholt stated.
When capturing a bat for testing, it’s important to wear gloves and other protective gear.
“Personal protection equipment is crucial,” Overholt continued. “We recommend wearing leather gloves, preferably, something the bat could not bite through or scratch through. If you could use something other than your hands to collect the animal, that’s always encouraged. I know some people used butterfly nets or blankets.”
You can also use a small box or coffee can with a piece of cardboard and tape, the department said in a statement.
“When the bat lands, approach it slowly, while wearing the gloves, and place the box or coffee can over it,” Knox Public Health advises. “Slide the cardboard under the container to trap the bat inside. Secure the lid with tape. If the bat is alive, be sure to punch small air holes in the lid.”
Avoid shaking or traumatizing the bat because that could damage the brain and interfere with testing, the department added.
Even if the bat is dead, it can still be tested.
“If you happen to kill it or severely injure it and you can’t reach us immediately, we would ask that you put it in a cool, dry place in a container that could not be opened by your pets or small children,” Overholt said. “If it’s going to be overnight, we would ask that you put it in a refrigerator or a container with ice packs. We don’t want the animal to start deteriorating.”
Do not put the bat in a freezer.
The county does not charge for bat rabies testing. The health department is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. You can bring the bat to the health department yourself or call local local enforcement to contact the health department to pick it up.
“Bats are good,” Overholt said. “They do a lot of good things for the environment. They eat a lot of bugs. But like any wild animal, we want to try and stay away from them. Let them have their space.”