SHOREWOOD – The number of rabid bats discovered in Will County this year has reached a record level. But one expert says that kind of news is unfair to the bat’s reputation.
The Will County Health Department has reported that as of Friday morning, 12 bats have been found with the rabies virus so far this year, matching the record set in 2012.
The latest sighting of a rabid bat occurred Sept. 10, health department spokesman Vic Reato said. A bat was found on the sidewalk outside of a New Lenox home. Three adults received precautionary rabies shots and a 10-week-old puppy was euthanized because it was too young for the vaccine.
Janet Tyburec, a bat consultant and former employee of Bat Conservation International who helped last week with a Forest Preserve project that involved the construction of a bat condo at Hammel Woods in Shorewood, said recent media coverage of rabid bats have given bats a bad rap.
“Very few people in this country contract rabies from any source annually, let alone bats,” Tyburec said.
Rabies is a fatal viral disease that is usually transmitted through the bite of a rabid animal, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Bats are among the animals listed in the majority of rabies cases handled by the DCD. Others are raccoons, skunks and foxes.
The virus infects the central nervous system, causing progressively painful symptoms and eventually death.
But the North American Society for Bat Research says bats are rarely aggressive toward humans and fear about contracting rabies through bats is overblown.
Tyburec said that when bats contract rabies, they isolate themselves from other bats. So an outbreak of rabies among bat colonies is very rare.
Also, rabies has a paralytic effect on bats, causing them to be less aggressive, she said.
Reato said bats do get an unfortunately bad reputation because of the recent news about rabid bats in the county. But it’s important that bats don’t find their way into homes.
“Bats aren’t necessarily bad by themselves, but you don’t want them in your house or the sidewalks in front of your house,” he said, adding that it was important to educate curious children and keep them and pets away from bats.
Reato said 4 to 5 percent of bats tested in Will County this year have been rabid, higher than the yearly average of about 2 percent.
He noted that the health department recognizes the importance of bats in the ecosystem, with one bat capable of eating thousands of mosquitoes every night. But the low probability of someone becoming infected with the rabies virus is too high to take any chances.
“Bats probably don’t want to come into contact with humans,” Reato said. “But when they are sick or diseased, they can be on the sidewalk, hang around a house.”
While no cases of rabies has been detected in people this year in Will County, there has been human exposure leading to people taking the vaccine for the disease.
Bat bites are generally noticeable. So if a live or dead bat is found, Will County Animal Control advises residents call 815-462-5633 for removal.
• 8 species of bats found in Will County
• Can eat their own weight in insects and moths in one night
• Pollinate plants
• Thrive in hot summers and cold winters
• Females, young males and baby “pups” hang together while adult males roost alone
• Social animals that sometimes have “conversations” with each other
• Can carry rabies and spread the disease through saliva
• Only order of mammals with ability to sustain flight
Source: Will County Forest Preserve and bat expert Janet Tyburec