Reports of rabid bats on rise in Chicago area
37 percent increase from 2017, public health officials say
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.
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.