Reports of unusual daylight bat activity in combination with increased numbers of bats testing positive for rabies in southwest Idaho, cause health officials from Southwest District Health to issue a warning to avoid contacts with bats. This is because the potential risk of rabies and people should make sure household pets are current with their rabies vaccinations. With the hunting season quickly approaching, hunters should particularly take heed.

Bat activity is expected to increase this time of the year as they are trying to locate a place to stay for the winter. Two bat with rabies were found in Emmett, according to a spokeswoman from Gem Veterinary Clinic. This resulted in the possible exposure of two domestic animals in the county. A pet exposed to rabies must be quarantined, with strict isolation, for six months. Gem County residents are lax in vaccinating their animals against rabies, according to the clinic.

According to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, Idaho animals that got rabies from a bat include horse, cat, bobcat and skunk. Animals with rabies must be reported within 24 hours of detection.

Rabies is a preventable, infectious, viral disease that affects the nervous system of humans as well as other wild and domestic animals, including dogs, cats and horses. It can be fatal if left untreated. It is often transmitted through the bite of a rabid animal. The vast majority of rabies cases reported each year occur in wild animals like bats, raccoons, skunks, coyotes and fox. It is also possible but quite rare, for people to acquire rabies when saliva or other infectious material from a rabid animal directly contacts their eyes, nose, mouth or a wound. Bats are the only animal in Idaho known to naturally carry the virus.

“Although most bats are harmless and do not carry rabies, it is best to avoid them if possible. Any bat that exhibits unusual behavior such as being active during the day, unable to fly or in a place where bats are not usually seen, is more likely to have rabies,” David Loper, director Environmental Health Services for SWDH said. “Rabies can only be confirmed in a laboratory but your awareness of this activity is very important,” he said.

Read more about the issue in the Sept. 26 print edition of the Messenger Index; 120 N. Washington Ave., 365-6066.