by Taryn Clark, DVM
In Washtenaw County as of October 4th, 2018, there have been 107 animals tested for rabies. Of those animals, 87 were bats; 6 of those bats were positive for rabies. In Michigan, rabies is most likely to be carried by bats and skunks.
Rabies is caused by a virus and is usually passed from the infected animal to a new one by saliva, typically from a bite. Symptoms may include confusion, violent movements, excessive salivation and a fear of water, from which the disease gets its historic name: hydrophobia. Once these symptoms appear, death of the infected animal is almost certain. This makes prevention extremely important.
The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) recommends that, if a dog or cat has possibly been exposed to the rabies virus, the pet get revaccinated immediately and have the owner observe him for 45 days. While rabies in animals vaccinated against the rabies virus is rare, vaccinated animals can still develop the disease.
If the biting animal (e.g., bat) is available, submission for rabies testing is highly recommended. If you find a bat in your house, please don’t let it go without talking to a professional.
If you discover a bat in your home, we recommend you leave the bat alone and contact a local animal control or public health agency for assistance. If they are unavailable, call the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) at 1-800-292-3939 or the MDHHS at 1-517-335-9030 during business hours or either 517-373-0440 or 517-335-9030 after business hours for consultation.
If professional help is not available, use precautions to capture the bat safely (e.g. leather work gloves, a small cardboard box or coffee can and tape). If the bat is dead, put it in a Ziploc bag and put it in the freezer until it can be sent in for testing. Contact the Washtenaw County Health Department at 734-544-6700 for advice regarding sending the bat for testing; for your convenience, Ann Arbor Animal Hospital can also coordinate rabies testing for these animals.
The below list of mammals are rarely infected and will not be tested at MDHHS: chipmunk, gerbil, gopher, guinea pig, hamster, mole, mouse, muskrat, prairie dog, rabbit, rat, shrew, squirrel or vole.
All animal bites and exposure to bats should be reported to the Washtenaw County Health Department at 734-544-6700.
We have had a number of unvaccinated "indoor" cats come to our practice that have been potentially exposed to rabies when a bat came into their home. Ann Arbor Animal Hospital recommends that all dogs and cats (both indoor and outdoor) get vaccinated for rabies. Cats need an annual rabies vaccine to stay current and dogs get annual to triennial (every three years) vaccines, depending on age and previous vaccine history.
Remember: prevention is the best medicine!