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Don't touch bats — many are rabid

A surge in the number of bats testing positive for rabies has prompted Davis County health officials to issue a warning: "Don't touch bats."

In the past two weeks, there have been three incidents in which students found live bats and showed them off to friends at school — two at elementary schools and one at a high school, according to Lewis Garrett, director of the Davis County Health Department.

The bats children were playing with at both Fremont Elementary School in Sunset and at Layton High School tested positive for rabies. Around 10 kids were exposed at the elementary school and three at the high school. The students are now being treated with a series of shots to prevent rabies.

In addition, several adults recently have been exposed to bats in other locations, Garrett said.

Although it takes blood contact to get rabies, a bat's claws are tiny "and you can be scratched and not even know it. Often, bat scratches are overlooked entirely or confused for an insect bite. If you have physical contact with a bat, you can't 100 percent rule out a small scratch," Garrett said

In that case, an individual must undergo after-exposure vaccine treatment to prevent rabies, which is considered absolutely lethal once it develops. Rabies is a viral nervous system disease spread when virus in an animal's saliva or other body fluid enters a person's open cuts, wounds, mouth or eyes. The after-exposure vaccine will prevent development of rabies, Garrett said, but it's not fun and no one should have to go through it if it's not needed. Hence the advice to leave bats — and for that matter, all wild animals, particularly those that are acting sick or weird — alone.

"What has us particularly concerned is that about 20 percent of the bats we've submitted for testing have come back positive for rabies," Garrett said.

When that happens, health officials have to identify everyone who had physical contact with the bat and establish carefully whether there's a possibility of exposure.

Bats are not enthusiastic about contact with people, so when you see one flying into people or hanging around places people go, it may indicate the bat is sick. Such bats, according to Bryan Smith, interim director of Davis County Animal Services, may be more likely to have rabies. The same is true of other wild animals, since they typically don't want to be around humans.

Other indications of rabies may include irritable, restless or nervous behavior. But Smith said some animals don't exhibit any sign of disease, although they're highly contagious.

Treatment includes a shot of an antibody preparation, followed by a series of vaccines.

Strange behavior in pets and wild animals should be reported to Animal Services, Smith said. The number in Davis County is 444-2200.