WISE — A bat collected this month near the town of Pound was identified by the Wise County Health Department as being positive for rabies, the Virginia Department of Health said Wednesday.
The bat was reportedly discovered and collected earlier this month by Wise health officials from a private residence in the Pound area. The rabies testing was carried out by the Division of Consolidated Laboratory Services.
Lenowisco Health District Director Eleanor Cantrell, MD, characterized rabies as a “real threat” in Southwest Virginia due to the fact rabid bats have been previously identified in the Lenowisco District, which encompasses Lee, Wise and Scott counties and the city of Norton.
Cantrell said preventative measures are the best ways to avoid contracting the deadly virus.
In order to avoid potential exposure to rabies, the VDH recommends that pets and livestock be vaccinated and those vaccinations be kept current.
Health officials also recommend not feeding wild animals and avoiding all sick or strange-acting animals.
Other tips include covering garbage cans and not leaving food outside, not keeping wild animals as pets and not touching or picking up dead animals, which includes bats.
Health officials also warn that pets should not be allowed to play with bats and recommend homes be “bat-proofed” with the use of screens, or by covering any openings.
Also, anyone bitten by an animal should contact their doctor, or a veterinarian if their pet is bitten by another animal.
Cantrell said that it is critical to immediately report any exposure to saliva, brain or spinal tissue from a domestic or wild mammal to the health department since the rabies virus is found in these fluids and tissues.
Because bats have sharp teeth, health officials said people may not even notice being bitten. As a result, simply finding a bat in a room with an infant or child is considered a possible exposure. The same applies with adults who are sleeping, unconscious or impaired, or unable to communicate well when a bat is found in their room.
If someone is exposed to rabies, health officials recommend beginning treatment immediately, even before symptoms appear. Once symptoms develop, the infection is almost always fatal, Cantrell said.