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Bats test positive for rabies in San Luis Obispo County

Residents are being warned against any contact with bats after three bats in San Luis Obispo County tested positive for rabies.

“This number is higher than usual, as most years the Public Health Laboratory sees one or no confirmed cases of rabies in bats. It is not unusual for bats to carry rabies,” read a statement by the San Luis Obispo County Public Health Department.

Two of the bats were found in Atascadero, and one was found in Cambria.

“All three bats were brought to the Public Health Laboratory for testing after residents reported a sick or dead bat to County Animal Services or Pacific Wildlife Care,” the statement continued. “Most local cases of bats biting people have occurred when people attempted to capture or rescue a bat they believed to be injured or sick.”

Public health officials note that bats aren’t generally aggressive, but will tend to bite people when people initiate contact with them by trying to handle them or attempt to capture them whether it be in the wild or if they become trapped inside a home.

“If you find a bat that appears lethargic or sick, don’t touch it or attempt to rescue it: that puts you at risk for rabies, and it doesn’t help the bat,” said Dr. Penny Borenstein, SLO County Health Officer.

A most likely sign a bat is carrying the rabies virus or another disease is if a bat is seen being active during the day but unable to fly and allow themselves to be approached by people. Testing the animal for rabies in a laboratory is currently the only method to discover whether the animal is indeed infected with the rabies virus.

To avoid getting rabies or other diseases from a bat, the SLO County Public Health Department recommends the following:

Do not approach a bat, touch it, or attempt to capture or rescue it. This includes bats that appear healthy, bats that appear injured or sick, and bats that appear to be dead. Teach children to avoid contact with bats and other unfamiliar animals, even if the animals appear friendly or appear to need help. If you are bitten by a bat or other animal, wash the wound thoroughly with soap and water and immediately seek medical attention.

Contact animal services at 805-781-4400 if you find an injured, sick or dead bat so it can be tested for rabies, and sick medical help for yourself immediately if you’re bitten.

Rabies can be fatal if it’s not treated right away.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the most common way for people to get rabies in the U.S. is through contact with a bat, although other animals such as raccoons and skunks can also carry the virus.

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