Rabies Found In More Bats In City

Total So Far Might Be Six As Testing Continues

Complaints To Animal Control Surpass 100

August 29, 2009|By Susan Reimer | Susan Reimer,susan.reimer@baltsun.com

The number of bats that have tested positive for rabies in Baltimore has increased this summer, according to city officials, who are also seeing a rise in complaints about bats from homeowners.

"This time last year, we had three positives," said Bob Anderson, director of the city's Bureau of Animal Control. "So far this year, we have five and we have another 12 waiting for testing. That could make six.

"I don't want to alarm people, but six is a big leap."

There have been more than 100 calls to animal control so far this summer, and 60 bats have been captured and tested for rabies, he said.

Rabies is a disease of the nervous system that can be fatal if not treated. The last case of human rabies in Maryland was in 1976.

"You want to see bats around your house," said Anderson. "They eat mosquitoes and mosquitoes carry West Nile virus, and I am more worried about that than I am about rabies."

Typically, between 1 percent and 3 percent of the 500 to 800 bats tested in Maryland each year turn out to have rabies, said Dana Limpert, a state Department of Natural Resources bat ecologist.

Infected bats quickly lose their ability to fly, Limpert said, limiting their threat to people.

"They quickly become paralyzed," she said. "Most bites occur when humans encounter them on the ground or in an unusual place and pick them up with bare hands and get bitten."

Anderson agreed, but added, "Every one of the rabid bats this year was still flying when it was caught."

Bats contract rabies from other rabid animals and transmit it to humans through their saliva. It is possible to be unaware of a bat bite, especially if asleep.

"You won't see a big set of teeth on a bat," Anderson said.

August is a busy time for bats as babies leave the nest and adults relocate to their winter habitat.

Even though bats may be more active in Baltimore, state officials have no indication of an uptick in bat problems elsewhere in the state.

"It's migration time and people are seeing more bats," said Bob Beyer, associate director of the DNR division of wildlife and heritage. "But nothing I am seeing indicates an increase in complaints," he said.

Anderson theorized that a mild winter and spring might be the reason for more bats - and complaints - in Baltimore.

Bats can be a nuisance if they take up residence in a home. It is best to exclude them humanely in late summer, when bats are on the move and the young are flying, by sealing off the entrances they use - usually marked by bat guano.

If you value the bats for their insect control, Limpert said, a good compromise is to seal off the entrances to the house and then install "bat boxes." "They know about your house anyway," she said. "You can just get them to move there."

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