Flathead health officials offer rabies prevention reminders

Posted at 5:42 PM, Jul 07, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-07 19:43:02-04

KALISPELL — Health officials are offering up a rabies reminder in Northwest Montana.

The Flathead City-County Health Department (FCCHD) reports seeing an increase in the number of reported human and domestic animals incidents involving bats and skunks.

Health officials note that not all bats and skunks carry rabies, but in order to know for certain, the animal must be available for testing. FCCHD will cover the cost of rabies testing if a bat or skunk has had animal or human contact.

If a bat or skunk is not available for testing and a person or animal has been bitten, scratched or been in direct contact, it is considered a rabies exposure and the appropriate follow-up must be completed.

According to health officials, bats are of special concern because a bat bite may not be noticeable. If a bat is found in an area where contact may have occurred but gone undetected, such as a bedroom with a sleeping adult or child, it should be tested for rabies.

“We urge residents to be cautious around bats and skunks. If you or your pet has had direct contact with a bat or skunk, please contact the Health Department so that a public health professional can assess the risk, provide guidance for necessary follow-up and ensure proper handling and testing of the specimen if it is available,” said Health Officer Joseph Russell.

In order to ensure FCCHD can test a bat or a skunk for rabies the brain/head must be intact and must be refrigerated -- but not frozen -- until it is sent for testing. Additional instructions can be found here. People can also call (406) 751-8110 to discuss potential rabies exposure and proper procedures.

FCCHD rabies prevention tips:

  • Do not feed or handle wild animals, especially bats. Teach children to never touch wild animals or handle bats, even dead ones. Ask children to tell an adult if they see or find a bat.
  • Vaccinate your dogs and cats against rabies. Cats are particularly susceptible to rabies exposure due to a higher risk of interaction with wild animals. All dogs and cats are required to have a current rabies certificate in Flathead County.
  • Bat-proof your house. Place screens on all windows, doors and chimneys to prevent bats from entering. Prevent bats from roosting in attics or buildings by covering outside entry points. However, to avoid trapping any young bats who will die or try to make their way into your rooms, seal the openings permanently after August or in the fall after the bats have left for the season.
  • Watch for abnormal wild animal behavior. Most wild animals avoid humans and seeing skunks and bats during the daytime is rare. If you see an animal acting strangely, leave it alone and contact law enforcement or animal control if you think it may pose a danger.

From the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website:

Rabies is a fatal but preventable viral disease. It can spread to people and pets if they are bitten or scratched by a rabid animal. In the United States, rabies is mostly found in wild animals like bats, raccoons, skunks, and foxes. However, in many other countries dogs still carry rabies, and most rabies deaths in people around the world are caused by dog bites.

The rabies virus infects the central nervous system. If a person does not receive the appropriate medical care after a potential rabies exposure, the virus can cause disease in the brain, ultimately resulting in death. Rabies can be prevented by vaccinating pets, staying away from wildlife, and seeking medical care after potential exposures before symptoms start.