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A Bat in My House

By Michele C. Hollow for Pet News and Views

I wrote the story below a few years ago. Well, we had another bat visit us this past weekend. We came home from a wedding, and my son was outside waiting for us on our front porch. This time, the bat in our house was much bigger and quite active.

Our two cats, had their rabies shots, were chasing it around. We called animal control and are now waiting to find out if it is rabid.

In all truthfulness, I thought it was quite impressive looking. I like bats–out in the wild–because they consume mosquitoes. Following is the story of our first bat encounter.

My husband, Steven, was telling our son, Jordon, a bedtime story. Steven looked up and did a double take. He saw a brown bat on a wall in our bedroom. He calmly had Jordon go downstairs and called animal control. I wanted to catch and release it.

When the animal control officer caught it, he also wanted to let it go. However, he said it needed to be tested for rabies since we have a small child and a cat living in the house. Within the last two weeks, eight bats were found in homes in South Orange and Maplewood, NJ. One in Maplewood came back positive for rabies.

Rabies is found in the brain of an animal. So, it has to be destroyed in order to find out if it is positive or negative. A few days later, we got a call, and were told the bat tested positive, and that we were the first family living in South Orange to have a rabid bat in our house. I really didn’t believe it. I also did’t want to go for rabies shots, and I was sad that the bat had to be destroyed.

First, I took Earl Gray, our cat, to the vet. He was due for a rabies shot. Then it was our turn. Steven and I picked Jordon up from camp, and told him we needed to head to the emergency room.

A Series of Rabies Shots
The staff at Saint Barnabus Medical Center in Livingston, NJ, is great. The nurse who administered the shots was painless. Steven and I had to get a Tetanus shot. Jordon recently had one. Next was the rabies vaccine. While we waited, we played games and entertained Jordon. I felt so bad that he had to get three shots. I had three shots (plus the Tetanus). One in the arm and one on each butt cheek. Because he’s a big guy, Steven had to get five shots–plus the Tetanus–one in each butt cheek, his arm, and his thighs.

That marked day zero. Three days later we went back to the hospital for one additional shot. Tonight, which is day seven, we each get one more shot. And on day 14, we get our last shot.

We felt so bad for Jordon that we let him eat dessert for dinner. He ordered an ice cream Sundae.

Bats and Bites
I was almost going to nix the shots. However, the animal control guy said we needed them. I was certain we weren’t bitten. As a rule, bats don’t bite people, unless you handle them. The majority of bats eat insects and some eat fruit. The vampire bat, which this wasn’t, feeds on the blood of animals–mostly cattle. Vampire bats are mostly found in South America.

The bat in our house was a brown bat. Brown bats are not endangered, but many are being decimated by White Nose Syndrome. This disease is spreading rapidly throughout the northeast, and is killing bats in large numbers. I like bats. Any animal that eats its weight in mosquitoes is good.

How Is Rabies Spread?
According to the Center for Disease Control, “rabies is a viral disease that affects the central nervous system. The rabies virus can be passed to humans via the bite of a rabid animal, its saliva, or feces.” This means that you have to touch the rabid animals’ saliva or feces. I don’t know how anyone would not know if they were bitten or came in contact with saliva or feces.

Every doctor, nurse, and the animal control officer all said that if you are sleeping you would not know if you were bit. Apparently bats’ teeth are quite sharp; the puncture holes are tiny, and because they are so small, you don’t feel it.

We were also told that a bat can brush up against you, and if you had a cut on your body and that cut came in contact with the rabid animal’s saliva, you could get rabies. It seems a bit of a stretch to me, but that is the truth.

As I said, I like bats, and I don’t want to start a bat scare. According to the State Health Department, each year between two and three people in the U.S. contract rabies.

Protecting You and Your Pets
If you see a bat in your home, call animal control, and have the bat tested. If the tests come back positive, go for the series of rabies shots. The odds of getting rabies are slim to none; it is best to make sure, and also make sure that your pet’s rabies vaccinations are up-to-date.

If you want to read a story on avoiding wildlife encounters, and what to do if you come into contact with wildlife this summer click here.

 

20 comments to A Bat in My House

  • Wow! What an adventure. I’m glad everyone is OK.

  • That is *such* a drag that the entire family had to go and get rabies shots. But it’s good that you did ’cause otherwise the “what if” would always be in the back of your mind.

  • Thanks Karen, You are right. Better safe than sorry.

  • Thanks Eric, The chances that we came in contact with a rabid bat are slim, but it is best to be cautious in this case. Michele

  • susan

    I don’t mean to be a big downer but personally, I would never – ever have taken those shots or given them to my child. Did the animal control guy get some too? Bitten in your sleep? What a racket. Anyway, I am glad you’re alright. Hopefully you’ll stay that way.

  • I doubt we were bit. But rabies can be transferred via saliva and feces of a rabid animal. It’s rare, but better safe than sorry.

  • Kathy

    The shots are absolutely required – regardless of what you think of vaccinations and shots in general. Rabies is a deadly disease that if the shots are not administered immediately, within the first 3 days of exposure the initial shots must be given, then there is no going back – and it is always fatal. Rabies is something that you NEVER EVER screw around with – and you did not only the right thing but you are required by law to do so as well. Because if you became ill, then you would be putting all the others around you at risk for exposure too. A ‘bite’ from a bat can be a tiny little nip that barely breaks the skin. In otherwords, it’s entirely possible that you could have been bitten and didn’t know it.

    There was a young girl from Westchester where I grew up who went camping one summer – she did not know that she had been bitten by a bat – but died later from rabies and during the autopsy they traced it back to that camping trip as that was her only exposure out in the wild where she would have come into contact with a bat. Rabies is rare but it is not as rare as it had been years ago. Because humans are living in such close contact w/ more and more animals today, the incidents have been increasing and animals have become more aggressive.

    As for the autopsy of the animal’s brain, that is the only way that rabies can be detected – and definitively diagnosed, in an animal or a human….basically any species. So without the ability to do an autopsy on you or your family members (thank God!!!!) the only way to ensure that you will NOT GET rabies is to have the rounds of rabies shots that you are getting for yourselves and your pets.

    Michelle – UNQUESTIONABLY, you are doing the right thing. Talk to any Vet in this country and they will tell you that as well – Including Holistic Vets.

    When people make comments like “I personally would never – ever get rabies or give them to my child ” – I can assure you they do not understand the severity of this horrific and untreatable disease and by not doing so, they would be seriously endangering the welfare of themselves and their children. Please people – do some research on this before making such ignorant statements.

    PS: My Mother had Rabie shots in 1938 – and she is alive and well and healthy today at age 79 – The rabies shots have done nothing to impede her life or lifestyle. Every Vet must have rabie shots prior to working with animals too. Vet Techs get them too. You are in good company and you have nothing to worry about – and you seem to be enduring the pain pretty well too. You can sleep well knowing you are going to be just fine!!!

  • Elaine Bloom

    What an awful experience! Glad you are all OK.

    Don’t want to be a downer to Susan but people have been bitten by a bat while they were sleeping. It happens. So better to be safe about this.

  • Wow Kathy, You are certainly knowledgeable about this topic, and you are absolutely right. Glad your mom is doing well. (I know this happened a long time ago when the shots were more painful and there were more of them.) And yes, I have mixed feelings about vaccines; still, I feel that was our only option. And I also feel bad about destroying a bat. As I mentioned, I really like bats. Thanks so much for taking the time to comment and for your good advice. Michele

  • Thanks for sharing this information. I had no idea that so many precautions would have to be taken if you came into contact with a bat. I guess it’s because I don’t live in an area where ther are bats.

  • Donna

    I hate to be creepy, but no vaccine has a 100% success rate, including the rabies vaccine. Some vaccinated animals, or people, can still catch rabies. The failure rate is only around 1 in 1 million.

  • Karen

    Michele,

    Glad everyone is well. What a story you have now–although I am sure you’d rather not have had it.

    Thinking of all of you.

    Karen

  • I had the vaccine back in the early 80s when I was working as a vet tech and there was an outbreak of rabies in the area. I still have a blood titer from that series of three shots. It is so important to keep your pets up-to-date on their rabies vaccines. I saw several dogs suffer and die from this disease.

  • Thanks Annette, You are right. It is essential to keep dogs’s vaccine’s up to date–and cats too.

  • Thanks Karen, We have one more shot, and then that’s that! Hope you, Mike, and Coby are doing well. –Michele

  • Donna, That is true, but the odds, 1 in 1 million, I will take my chance with the vaccine. And as a mom with a child on the spectrum, I am leary about vaccines. However, I’ve done lots of research on this topic. So, in most cases vaccines are essential. Michele

  • This gave me the heebie jeebies and is an excellent article. I, too, had a bat in my house. I even swatted the bloody thing with the back of my hand not realizing it was a B-A-T!! Ackkkk. I did such a girlie scream, I think the neighbors are still talking about it. In any case, I hid with the dog in the bathroom til the authorities arrived to help shoo it. I know they serve a purpose in nature. Um just not in my house. And the picture here gives me the willies lol. Oh and that was 2 years ago, so feeling safe rabies isn’t an issue. I never knew about precautionary shots though. Best wishes.

  • Glad to hear that everyone is ok.

    In my neck of the woods, this summer there seemed to be a lot more bugs than normal, likely due to the mild wet spring we had. I don’t recall ever seeing bats in past years, but I saw several this year, maybe because of the increased food sources for them.

    Bats are cool!

    How does a bat get rabies anyway?

  • Jim, Good question. I’ve asked wildlife experts, and all I keep on hearing is that one bat will spread it to another through a bit, saliva or feces. How it initially got there I don’t know. Anyone?

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