Bats in Colorado
There are 18 species of bats known to live in Colorado. Some are here year-round, and some migrate through the state. They can be found in every habitat - from the eastern plains to the high mountain forests and western deserts, from rural Colorado to downtown Denver. All of our bats eat insects; they play a valuable role in ecosystems by helping to control insect populations. Little brown bats, for example, have been known to catch and eat more than 150 mosquitos in less than 15 minutes. Bats also pollinate plants and crops.
What is Rabies?
Rabies virus infects the central nervous system, causing encephalopathy and ultimately death. Symptoms of rabies in humans are initially nonspecific, consisting of fever, headache, and general malaise. As the disease progresses, neurological symptoms appear and may include insomnia, anxiety, confusion, slight or partial paralysis, excitation, hallucinations, agitation, hypersalivation, difficulty swallowing, and hydrophobia (fear of water). Death usually occurs within days of the onset of symptoms.
There is no treatment for rabies after symptoms of the disease appear. However, an extremely effective rabies vaccine can provide immunity to rabies when administered after an exposure (postexposure prophylaxis) or for protection before an exposure occurs (preexposure prophylaxis).
If you are bitten by an animal, please contact your medical provider or local health department to determine the potential for rabies exposure, the need for treatment, and to decide whether or not to test the animal for rabies.
Rabies, Bats and Wildlife
Five species of wildlife are the main hosts of rabies in the U.S. - raccoons, skunks, bats, foxes and coyotes, in that order. In Colorado, bats have been the primary rabies host for the past 20 years.
Some Warning Signs
A good rule of thumb is anytime you see a bat acting abnormally, the chances are it is sick. Bats that have contact with people, that children find or pets capture are usually sick or injured and pose a greater risk of being rabid.
Experience and studies have proven that killing bats or destroying their roosting sites won't eliminate rabies or reduce its occurrence in bat populations. Therefore, the best way to prevent being exposed to rabies is by taking a few simple steps.
Do not pick up or handle bats - or any wildlife for that matter.
The most common ways people have been exposed to rabid bats are by picking one off the ground, trying to remove a bat from the house, taking a bat from a family pet and having a bat land on them. People also have awakened to find a bat in their bedroom or house, and when that happens, it can be difficult to determine if an exposure has occurred. If a bat or wild animal lets you approach or handle it, there's something wrong with the animal.
- Keep pets currently vaccinated against rabies.
Keeping your pets vaccinated protects them from exposures to rabies, including exposures you may not be aware of, such as a cat catching and eating a bat. If exposed to rabies, an unvaccinated pet must be quarantined, which can be expensive.
- Keep bats out of your home.
The Division of Wildlife or Colorado Department of Health can provide information on non-lethal methods to remove bats from your attic or house, as well as ways to bat-proof your residence
What to Do if You Encounter A Suspicious Bat
Contact your local animal control agency (Denver 311) . These agencies can determine if the bat can be released or should be tested.
If you are bitten or scratched by a bat, this is a medical emergency that requires immediate medical attention. Clean the area with soap and water and apply alcohol or iodine. Bat teeth are small and very sharp, so the wound may be no more than a pin-like puncture, or may not be visible at all. you may not see a wound or mark, but if you think you may have been bitten or can't eliminate the possibility (i.e. awaken to find a bat in your bedroom), seek medical attention immediately. Contact the local health department or animal control agency to arrange for the bat to be tested.
if the bat is not recovered or it tests positive for rabies, you will need preventative treatment immediately. Rabies shots aren't nearly as traumatic as in the past. Today, fewer shots are required, and they are administered in the arm and buttocks, rather than the stomach.
Bats are fascinating wildlife neighbors and important components of the native ecosystems of wild Colorado. However, bats can transmit rabies to people, and unfortunately, the incapacitated bats that come in contact with people are those most likely to have the disease. With a little knowledge, caution and respect for the wild in wildlife, bats and people can coexist in Denver.
- If your pet catches a bat or you find one in your house, do not handle it with your bare hands! Make a reasonable attempt to capture the animal, but take precautions so you're not bitten or scratched. Avoid damaging the bat's head.
Wear heavy gloves or use tongs or a shovel to pick up the bat. Confine it in a container, such as a coffee can. Slide cardboard under the can and tape it closed.
If your pet was bitten by a bat, had a bat in its mouth or was near a grounded bat, also contact your local animal control agency (Denver 311).
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment