Health Department warns public to avoid contact with wildlife due to possibility of rabies

TOMPKINS COUNTY, NY—The Tompkins County Health Department (TCHD) urges residents to be aware of potentially rabid wildlife and encourages individuals to avoid and be aware of bats and other vector species.

Each year, a small number of confirmed rabid bats are found in the county, and as the weather warms, the bats become more active, increasing the activity levels of the species. Attics and crawl spaces warm up, and bats seek cooler places on the lower floors of homes.

TCHD also indicates that bat bites may not be clearly apparent, such as in situations where a bat is found in a room with someone sleeping or in the presence of an unattended child or someone with sensory impairment.

If a bat lands on a person, it must be captured and tested. Bats that come into contact with unvaccinated pets are of concern, as are animals whose rabies vaccines are no longer valid.

If a bat is found in a public place, near a pet, a sleeping child or person, or a person with a sensory impairment, capture the bat and contact the health.

The TCHD recommends the following steps to safely capture a bat. Plus, this video from the New York State Department of Health demonstrates the proper technique.

  • Close the windows and doors in a room and turn on the lights, then wait for the bat to land.
  • With thick gloves, cover the bat with a bucket, coffee can or similar container.
  • If you see a bat outside, avoid further contact with people and pets by covering it with a container.
  • Immediately call the TCHD at (607) 274-6688 to determine if a test is needed or not. Environmental Health staff are available after hours to provide advice.
  • If the bat cannot be captured, contact the health department to determine what post-exposure rabies treatment is needed.

A statement from the health department states that “rabies is normally transmitted by the bite of a rabid wild or domestic mammal. The incubation period for rabies is typically one to three months, and orphaned wild animals may appear healthy during this time while potentially shedding the virus.

Exposure can also occur if saliva from a rabid animal enters the body through mucous membranes or wounds. Handling pets or objects potentially contaminated with the saliva of a rabid animal should only be done while wearing protective gloves and washing hands immediately after any contact.

Additional information on rabies can be found here.