A search is on by Toronto Public Health for a woman who took an injured bat to the Toronto Wildlife Center on Sept. 4. This is because the bat has since tested positive for rabies.
Dr. Rosana Pellizzari, associate medical officer of health has warned that it is absolutely necessary for the woman to contact Public Health immediately because she could have easily been exposed to rabies if she handled the bat with her bare hands.
"People can become easily infected with rabies if they are scratched or bitten by an infected bat and this individual may need to be vaccinated," Pellizzari was quoted. She added that a person could also become infected if a rabid animal's saliva came in contact with open cuts or with the mouth, nose or eyes.
To counteract infection from a rabid animal a vaccine must be taken soon after being bitten or scratched. Without vaccination, rabies can be fatal.
The health department is also urging caution as this is the time of year when human contact with bats can increase, as bats tend to head indoors looking for places to hibernate for the winter.
First-aid action for such bites or scratches includes cleaning and washing the bite thoroughly with soap and water and then seeking medical attention.
Rabies is an infectious viral disease that invades the central nervous system of humans and other warm-blooded animals. People usually get rabies from the bite of a rabid animal. Raccoons, skunks, foxes and coyotes are considered high-risk sources of virus, and bats are the most common source of infection for people across the United States.
"Bats do carry rabies and should not be allowed in your living area," says Barbara French, of Bat Conservation International (www.batcon.org). However, the incidence of rabies in wild bats is very low, reportedly no more than 4% of the overall statewide bat population, a number that has remained steady, she adds.
"There's plenty of reason to keep them around," French says, yet warns against anyone handling a bat, especially if it looks injured or on the ground. Health officials strongly recommend people shun wild, sick or injured animals, no matter how helpless they look.
This year in United States, 263 animals have tested positive for rabies, so far. A vast majority were raccoons, but also included seven cats, one groundhog, one coyote and 26 bats. No dogs have tested positive in that time period, due to mandatory rabies vaccinations.
Still, rabies remains a big problem worldwide. About 55,000 people, mostly in Africa and Asia, die from rabies every year and 99 percent dog bites.