Sullivan teens treated for rabies after one bitten by bat

J. H. Osborne • Apr 19, 2007 at 12:24 PM

BLOUNTVILLE - Two Sullivan County teenagers are undergoing preventative treatment for rabies after a run-in with a bat that later tested positive for the potentially fatal disease.

One teenager was bitten by the bat, which the two picked up after finding it on a sidewalk at Sullivan Central High School, said Dr. Stephen May, regional medical director with the Sullivan County Regional Health Department (SCRHD).

The other teenager handled the bat, May said.

The bat was captured, euthanized and sent to the Tennessee Department of Health State Lab, where it tested positive for rabies, May said.

The teenager who was bitten, along with the second teenager with a possible exposure to the rabid bat, are currently receiving rabies preventive treatment per guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Rabies is a viral disease of mammals that affects the central nervous system and when untreated can ultimately lead to death, May said.

After a person is exposed to rabies - through a bite or in some cases just by being in close proximity to a rabid animal, or its waste - the incubation period can be from a few weeks to a year, May said.

The closer the exposure occurs to the person's head, the quicker the disease progresses - a bite on the face will result in a shorter incubation period than a bite on a finger or leg, for example.

According to information released Wednesday by the SCRHD:

•According to the CDC, over 90 percent of rabies cases occur in wildlife such as skunks, raccoons, foxes and bats.

•Domestic animals account for less than 10 percent of rabies cases. Most often reported domestic rabies cases include cats, dogs and cattle.

•The last reported case of rabies in Sullivan County was bat rabies in 2002.

"This recent local case highlights the importance of staying away not only from wild animals but also sick animals that we may encounter," said Jennifer Williams, communicable disease director for the SCRHD.

"And it also emphasizes the need to have your dogs and cats vaccinated against rabies," May said.

The Tennessee Department of Health has scheduled a series of rabies clinics across Sullivan County on May 3. The cost will be $8 per vaccination. A complete list of locations will be printed in the Times-News before May 3.

Rabies Prevention Tips

•Teach children never to handle unfamiliar animals, wild or domestic, even if they appear friendly. "Love your own, leave other animals alone" is a good principle for children to learn, health officials say.

•Wash any wound from an animal thoroughly with soap and water and seek medical attention immediately.

•Have all dead, sick or easily captured bats tested for rabies if exposure to people or pets occurs.

•Some bats live in buildings, and there may be no reason to evict them if there is little chance for contact with people. However, bats should always be prevented from entering rooms of your home. For assistance with "bat-proofing" your home, contact an animal control or a wildlife conservation agency. If you choose to do the "bat-proofing" yourself, here are some suggestions.

•Carefully examine your home for holes that might allow bats entry into your living quarters. Any openings larger than a quarter-inch by a half-inch should be caulked.

•Use window screens, chimney caps and draft-guards beneath doors to attics, fill electrical and plumbing holes with stainless steel wool or caulking, and ensure that all doors to the outside close tightly.

•Additional "bat-proofing" can prevent bats from roosting in attics or buildings by covering outside entry points. Observe where the bats exit at dusk and exclude them by loosely hanging clear plastic sheeting or bird netting over these areas. Bats can crawl out and leave but cannot re-enter. After the bats have been excluded, the openings can be permanently sealed.

•During summer, many young bats are unable to fly. If you exclude adult bats during this time, the young may be trapped inside and die or make their way into living quarters. Thus, if possible, avoid exclusion from May through August.

•Most bats leave in the fall or winter to hibernate, so these are the best times to "bat-proof" your home.

May said that if a person wakes up and there's a bat in the room near their bed, health officials consider the person at risk for exposure to rabies.

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