Re­ports of rabid bats on rise in Chicago area

37 per­cent in­crease from 2017, pub­lic health of­fi­cials say

Daily Southtown (Sunday) - - News - By Ted Gre­gory tgre­gory@chicagotri­bune.com Twit­ter @tgre­go­ryre­ports

Just in time for Hal­loween, Illi­nois pub­lic health of­fi­cials have what might be scary news: The num­ber of rabid bats re­ported in the Chicago area this year jumped by 37 per­cent from last year.

Be­fore anx­i­ety lev­els rise too high, it might be im­por­tant to note that a rabid bat re­mains a rel­a­tive rar­ity, with 63 re­ported in Chicago and its five sur­round­ing coun­ties so far this year. That’s up from the 46 rabid bats re­ported all of last year in the six-county re­gion.

Statewide, 79 dis­eased bats have been recorded so far this year, sur­pass­ing last year’s to­tal of 58, ac­cord­ing to the Illi­nois Depart­ment of Pub­licHealth.

The num­bers have fluc­tu­ated over the years, froma high of 117 in 2010 to a low of 40 in 2014, ac­cord­ing to state data.

Nearly all of this year’s re­portswere fromCookand sur­round­ing coun­ties. Cook County has recorded 26 so far this year, fol­lowed by 19 in Will County — a siz­able jump from four recorded last year — and eight in DuPage County, down from 12 last year, ac­cord­ing to the state health depart­ment.

“It’s pretty much calmed down now,” Will County Health Depart­ment spokesman Steve Brandy said Thurs­day. “We had a lot of peo­ple find live ones in their houses.”

One of the more no­table rabid bat sight­ings oc­curred in June, Brandy said, when a Naperville res­i­dent was able to trap the bat in a wash­ing ma­chine.

The in­creased num­ber of re­ports prob­a­bly re­sulted from more aware­ness of rabid bats, Brandy said, lead­ing to more re­port­ing and more test­ing of the an­i­mals.

Only a very small portion of the bats that are screened test pos­i­tive for ra­bies.

An Illi­nois health depart­ment re­port in July said the yearly num­ber of bats sub­mit­ted for ra­bies test­ing in the U.S. has ranged from 1,300 to 1,700 over the past five years. About 3 per­cent typ­i­cally test pos­i­tive for ra­bies, the depart­ment said, close to the rate for those for bats sub­mit­ted for test­ing this year in Illi­nois.

Else­where intheChicago re­gion, Kane County re­ported seven rabid bats; McHenry County re­ported two; and Lake County one. A to­tal of 21 coun­ties in Illi­nois re­ported rabid bats.

Since 1995, more than 7,000 an­i­mals per year — most of them wild — have been di­ag­nosed na­tion­ally with the po­ten­tially deadly dis­ease that at­tacks the cen­tral ner­vous sys­tem of an­i­mals, in­clud­ing hu­mans.

Be­sides bats, ra­bies is most com­mon in skunks, rac­coons and foxes, al- though it’s known to in­fect deer and wood­chucks, among other an­i­mals.

Peo­ple usu­ally are ex­posed to the ra­bies virus when an in­fected an­i­mal bites them. Ex­po­sure also can oc­cur if an an­i­mal’s saliva en­ters an open cut or mu­cous mem­brane in the nose, mouth or eyes.

If an an­i­mal bite oc­curs, the Illi­nois Depart­ment of Pub­lic Health rec­om­mends wash­ing the wound thor­oughly with soap and wa­ter and seek­ing med­i­cal at­ten­tion im­me­di­ately. The lo­cal health depart­ment or the county an­i­mal con­trol of­fice also should be no­ti­fied im­me­di­ately. The an­i­mal should be cap­tured with­out dam­ag­ing its head and only if di­rect con­tact with the an­i­mal can be avoided.

Ex­perts ad­vise against touch­ing wild an­i­mals and say all an­i­mal bites should be re­ported to the lo­cal an­i­mal con­trol of­fice.

STACEY WESCOTT/CHICAGO TRI­BUNE

A small brown bat is held by an an­i­mal con­trol of­fi­cer at the Lake County An­i­mal Con­trol of­fice in Mun­delein. The num­ber of rabid bats re­ported in the Chicago area this year has jumped by 37 per­cent over last year.

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