Every spring and fall, migrating bats come through Yolo County.
“We have a huge wonderful bypass that’s an ideal habitat for bats,” said Bruce Sarazin, the director of Yolo County environmental health. “There’s a lot of bugs and mosquitoes, lots of food, lots of cover and a wonderful place to live.”
Yolo County has one of the largest bat colonies in California. The Health Department of Yolo County warns residents of rabid bats. Now that it is spring, bats are coming out of hibernation, and all residents should avoid contact with bats.
“Most of the bats live outside of the cities, so people don’t generally come in contact with them,” Sarazin said. “In your normal life, you shouldn’t come in contact with a bat.”
Rabies infections can be fatal if not treated immediately.
“It usually takes a few weeks before you notice signs of symptoms,” said Bruno Chomel, UC Davis professor of zoonoses. “It can be as short as 10 days, but it depends where you were bitten.”
Rabies will affect the brain by migrating along the nerves, he added.
“It’s going to invade the neurons, then grow in your brain,” he said. “And from the brain, it goes along the nerves and dispatches along the body.”
Out of 212 bats tested in Yolo County, 11 tested positive for rabies. This means that Yolo County has the second-highest number of rabid bats in the state, after Los Angeles.
“We have an ongoing program, and whenever someone is exposed to a bitten bat or any other animal that carry rabies, we place that animal in the quarantine, or we take the animal tested for rabies, depending on circumstances,” Sarazin said.
The environmental health department of Yolo County takes zoonotic diseases seriously, Sarazin added.
“We have a very proactive program investigating every bite or possible bite that happens when an animal bites a human,” he said.
Ten percent of bats tested last year were rabid-positive, Sarazin said.
“We didn’t find rabies in any other animals except for bats last year,” he said.
Symptoms from rabies can be detrimental to health, Chomel said.
“Sometimes you will have a fever and have a nervous crisis,” he said. “It can lead to paralysis and death. Usually, people die of respiratory distress and can’t breathe anymore. Once you have signs of rabies, you are going to die.”
People should seek help immediately if they come into contact with a bat.
“The real problem with bats is that their teeth are so tiny, and you’ll never know that you were ever bitten,” Sarazin said.
Individuals should avoid touching a bat if it looks sick, Chomel said.
“Call the animal control, especially if the bat looks sick. The problem with bats is that there is a small percentage that carries the virus but can carry it for a long time,” he said.
Bats generally stay away from people, but if they are infected with rabies, they start acting strangely and think irrationally, Sarazin said.
Although rabid bats can endanger public health, they play an important ecological role.
“Bats eat so many pounds of bugs, that [getting rid of them] would be devastating to California’s economy, especially in farming,” said Leslie Lyons, UC Davis associate professor of genetics. “You’re going to affect the economy quite drastically.”
If you come into contact with a rabid animal, report to the Health Department immediately at 666-8486 or Yolo County Animal Services at 668-5287.
JANET HUNG can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. XXX