- Associated Press - Friday, September 8, 2017

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Since Topeka resident Andrew Ginn woke up to a bat resting on the back of his head, he has learned more about bats in Kansas than he ever wanted to know. And now, he’s hoping to share that knowledge with as many Kansas citizens as possible, since he believes there is a lack of knowledge around the nighttime creatures.

At first, Ginn was in shock to find a bat in his house.

“There was a little brown bat on the bed, it had landed on the back of my head,” he told The Topeka Capital-Journal . “At that point it was around 2:00 a.m. and I just wanted to go to sleep, so the next morning I came to terms with what could happen with a bat.”

That’s when Ginn learned bats are often considered a prime vector of rabies in Kansas. He went to the emergency room, and was able to receive a rabies shot and the follow-up vaccines. But Ginn said he doesn’t think everyone in Kansas understands that the threat of rabies can actually be a concern in the state.

“I think it’s probably fair for people to realize that rabies is part of northeastern Kansas. If you wake up in a house with a bat in it, they want you to get vaccinated and that vaccine will cost you upward of $13,000,” he said. “Honestly, what was more staggering was that in 2017, if you do contract it, you’re probably going to die.”

Carrie Delff, a health services team leader for the Shawnee County Health Department, said while they often treat patients for the follow-up vaccines that come with the rabies vaccine, she doesn’t think there is any real reason for people to worry.

“I don’t know when we’ve last seen a case in humans,” she said. “It’s all about prevention because once a human develops it; it is almost 100 percent fatal.”

That’s what the vaccine is - prevention. According to health and safety standards, if someone is exposed, even by being in the same room with an animal that could potentially have rabies, they are instructed to receive the initial treatment as soon as possible. Next come the follow-up vaccines.

“At any one time, we probably have at least one person that’s somewhere in that series,” Delff said.

When an animal is found to possibly carry the disease, it is sent to specialists at Kansas State University that test it in a rabies lab.

“Bats are not usually high on the list in the number that come back carrying rabies,” said Charlie Lee, the extension wildlife specialist at Kansas State University. “Typically, there are more cattle and horses, and skunks that come back positive.”

Samantha Pounds, an ecologist with the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, said the rate of contracting rabies from bats is very low.

“The presence of rabies in a bat population is less than two percent, unless there is an outbreak, but outbreaks are uncommon,” she said in an email.

Lee said he wants to see a greater understanding of bats within the general public.

“There’s a phobia for many people of bats; they don’t have a good reputation,” he said. “I think people fear them and sometimes when they fear them, they come up with ideas that perhaps aren’t factual.”

This exact situation happened to Ginn as he started to tell his story to friends and family. Someone told him that during the summer months, bats are federally protected and cannot be removed from a home or killed during that time.

Lee said that is only partially true.

“There are two species of bats in Kansas that have federal protection. One of those bats roosts in storm sewers, other bats roost in trees,” he said.

Bats rarely come in conflict with humans, he said.

“The idea of not killing bats or harming bats in the summer usually has to do with that is the maternal time and there may be young bats in the attic, and then have to deal with decaying carcasses and an odor problem,” he said.


Information from: The Topeka (Kan.) Capital-Journal, https://www.cjonline.com

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