Rabid bat bites Denver Zoo worker

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DENVER – A wild bat that bit an employee at the Denver Zoo last weekend has tested positive for rabies, state health officials said.

The bat was found Sunday at 11:30 a.m. in front of the Bird World exhibit. The zoo employee who was bitten is currently receiving rabies vaccinations.

“Parents who had children in the zoo on Sunday… should ask their children if they had any contact with a bat,” said state veterinarian Dr. Elisabeth Lawaczeck.  “People can be exposed to rabies when they assist, feed or handle wild animals. While some people visiting the zoo were in the vicinity of the bat, it is not known whether anyone other than the zoo employee had contact with the bat.”

“All it takes is for a parent’s head to turn briefly and a child could pick up the bat and be bitten.  The teeth of the bar are so small they could bite and not leave a wound or mark.”  She adds, “This is a fatal disease.  Once symptoms start it’s too late, the person will die.  The only way to prevent rabies is to give them a vaccine shortly after the exposure or bite,” Lawaczeck added.

The State Health Department wants families who were at the Zoo Sunday to ask their kids if they had any contact with the bat. 

Anyone who may have had contact with the bat should contact the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment immediately at 303-692-2700.

Rabies is caused by a virus transmitted by the bite of an infected animal. However, because bat teeth are very small and sharp, a wound from a bat bite may not be visible, health officials said.

Rabies also can be transmitted by a scratch or if the animal’s saliva gets into a cut or break in the skin.  

“The safety of our visitors, employees and animals is our number one priority,” said Denver Zoo spokeswoman Tiffany Barnhart. “Denver Zoo’s animal care and veterinary staff routinely vaccinate our animal collection for rabies and we currently do not have concerns that any of our animals have been infected. We will maintain our diligence but want to ensure our community protects themselves and their pets.”

Lawaczeck says they have seen other cases of rabid bats as well as skunks, and caution people to stay away from wild animals.  If the animal lets you get close, then that could be a sign that it has rabies or some other disease.

Your Questions Answered: How to avoid exposure to rabies

  • Never touch a wild bat or any other wild animal. A healthy bat likely will not come near enough to be touched, so a bat that is slow, lying on the ground or that lands on a person could be showing signs of illness. If you can touch the animal, chances are it is sick. Children who find a bat should leave it where it is and tell an adult. 
  • Do not pick up a bat with your hands, even if you’re wearing gloves. Use a shovel.
  • If you are bitten by a bat or if you suspect you’ve been exposed to its saliva, try to contain the bat without touching it, and contact your local animal control agencyor health department so the bat can be tested.
  • Keep your doors and windows covered with intact screens. Do not leave screenless doors or windows open in the evening.
  • If you have bats in your house, try to find the source of their entry and seal it. Call a local nuisance wildlife trapper who has experience on how to do this. Also, one should check whether there are young bats that do not leave the house at night before sealing the home.
  • Make sure your pets are vaccinated against rabies.

Source: Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment

Additional resources: Bats at Schools

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