- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Guard your attics and unneutered pets - a “bat proofing” battle is gearing up in Prince George’s County and the surrounding metropolitan area.

Nine area bats have tested positive for rabies since Aug. 1, according to a statement released by the county Health Department on Sept 8. It urged awareness about a bat and rabies connection.

So far, only one person has been bitten by a bat and gotten rabies, according to a statement from an epidemiologist in the health department.

“In the other eight cases, bats were found in the living, sleeping quarters of people’s homes,” the epidemiologist wrote. “Residents were given recommendations to receive rabies post-exposure treatment.”

Rabies can be transmitted from bats to humans through a virus festering in the saliva of the rabid animal. The county epidemiologist said that the rabid bats have not tested positive for any other diseases.

To ward off these diseased residential loiterers, the county health department recommends “bat proofing” your home by caulking any holes larger than a quarter-inch by a half-inch and using coverings such as window screens and chimney caps.

They also suggest educational measures, such as teaching children to avoid handling unfamiliar animals such as coyotes or ferrets, “whether wild or domestic.”

Another good way to prevent rabies is to keep pet vaccinations current and confine pets to the backyard.

The D.C. Department of Health also issued a statement on Sept. 10 chronicling an increased number of bats with rabies. It urged residents to avoid contact with wildlife and to keep a close watch on domestic pets to make sure they do not interact with foreign wildlife.

District officials also provided a sassy slogan to remember: “Tell your children ‘Love their own, leave other animals alone.’ ” They hope people understand that the slogan means children should pet their cat and not a bat.

If a bat bite does occur, health officials say to wash the area with soap and water and then seek emergency medical treatment. Prince George’s County residents are advised that if they find a bat in their home, they should not attempt to evict it. Instead, they should call the county’s Animal Management Division at 301/780-7200.

They will confiscate the bat and test it for rabies.

Erin Badger, Prince George County’s public information specialist, encourages residents to call animal control, not the health department, if threatened by a bat.

“We do not directly battle the bats. We issue press releases on safety. Call animal control immediately if you find a bat in your home,” she said.

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