CLAY COUNTY — The Missouri State Public Health Laboratory confirmed a bat recently found in Clay County tested positive for rabies.
According to Ashley Wegner, section chief of Health Planning and Policy at Clay County Public Health Center, a Clay County resident saw a bat and called animal control. It was then randomly tested for rabies and tested positive.
While the bat is a carrier of rabies, it did not infect any person or animal, and it was undetermined if the bat was showing symptoms.
“What we know is bats are a natural reservoir for that virus,” Wegner said. “They carry the virus but don’t always get sick. It makes them an exposure point for people and animals.”
Bats can carry the virus for an unknown period of time without showing any symptoms. Rabies is an acute viral infection of the central nervous system that can be spread through saliva from the bite or scratch of an infected animal. It is nearly always fatal if left untreated, states a county health center release.
Wegner said sometimes bats show symptoms if they’ve been a carrier for a long time. If they are demonstrating unnatural behavior, she said, animal control should be called.
If there are bats in the attic of a home or in a close enough proximity to come in contact with people or pets, residents should call animal control or pest control. Wegner said they will know whether the bat should be relocated.
“If you see a bat flying around at night, that is natural behavior,” she said. “If a bat is laying in the grass or just sitting on a bench during the day, that is unusual behavior and you will want to stay away from that bat.”
According to the Missouri Department of Conservation, there are about 14 species of bats natural to Missouri. Wegner said they are most commonly seen at dusk during summer because they are nocturnal and hibernate in the winter. Natural occurring bats are a fact of life in Missouri, and some species are protected, Wegner said.
Residents can help prevent bats from coming into the home by covering or filling holes larger than a quarter-inch that would allow them access to spaces like an attic.
“It is important to remember to avoid contact with wild animals, especially bats and skunks, as they can carry rabies even if they do not appear sick,” Wegner said. “If you believe you have been exposed to a rabid animal, seek immediate medical attention from a health care provider.”
In 2008, a Missouri resident died from rabies due to a bat bite. To keep families safe, experts suggest making sure indoor and outdoor pets are up-to-date on rabies vaccinations. Pets should also not be allowed to run loose. People should also keep a safe distance from wild animals and wash hands thoroughly with soap and water if one comes in contact with a wild animal.
Citizens can report wild animals exhibiting unusual behavior by calling 439-4791 in Liberty, 532-0500 in Smithville or 436-2200 in Gladstone.