Bat encounters increasing in South Zone of Alberta Health Services

SOUTH ZONE – A recent increase of bat encounters across the South Zone of Alberta Health Services (AHS) is prompting AHS to warn residents to keep their distance from bats.

“We have seen an increasing number of human and bat interactions in the last few weeks. That is concerning because of the possibility of rabies,” says Dr. Karin Goodison, South Zone Medical Officer of Health.
While the majority of bats do not carry rabies, it is one of a few animals in Alberta that can transmit the disease to humans and pets. Bats infected with rabies may show no fear of humans and exhibit more aggressive behaviour, including biting, which can lead to human infection.

Rabies – which attacks the central nervous system of warm-blooded animals, including humans – is almost always fatal following the onset of symptoms. In humans, symptoms initially include fever and feeling unwell with pain or an unusual or unexplained tingling, pricking or burning sensation at the wound site. This may be followed by any of a range of symptoms including hyperactivity, restlessness, delirium, gradual paralysis of muscles, leading to coma and death. It can be several months after a bite before a person develops symptoms of rabies.

In Alberta, the last reported fatal case of human rabies was in 2006. The patient was bitten by a bat and did not seek or receive treatment.

“Bat bites or scratches may be so small that you don’t notice them, but this doesn’t mean they aren’t serious,” says Goodison. “Bites – which can look like insect bites, with tiny puncture wounds less than one centimetre apart – shouldn’t be ignored. If you are bitten, wash the wound with soap and water and seek medical attention promptly.”
To further reduce risk of contracting rabies, Dr. Goodison also recommends these precautions:

  • Avoid contact with bats and other wild animals that can pose risk of rabies (including raccoons, coyotes, skunks). Never touch or try to pet or catch a wild or stray animal. Never handle live or dead bats with bare hands.
  • Teach children to avoid unknown animals and to report any bite, scratch, or animal contact to an adult.
  • Keep rabies vaccinations for pets and livestock up to date.
  • Secure open areas of your home, such as pet doors, chimneys, unscreened windows or any place that animals could enter.
  • If you find a bat in your home, call your local municipality’s animal control department and AHS Environmental Public Health. As long as there has been no direct human contact, the bat may leave on its own through an open door or window.
  • If you or your children come in direct contact with a bat, or if you find a bat in a closed room with a sleeping person, contact your local public health office (Lethbridge – 403-388-6690 and Medicine Hat 403-502-8205) as soon as possible.
  • If your household pet has been bitten by a stray or wild animal, please immediately take your pet to a veterinarian.

The most common bats that people encounter in Alberta are the Little Brown Bat and the Big Brown Bat. Although bats normally roost in caves, they may also roost in and around homes, such as under decks, in attics and sheds.
Alberta Health Services is the provincial health authority responsible for planning and delivering health supports and services for more than four million adults and children living in Alberta. Its mission is to provide a patient-focused, quality health system that is accessible and sustainable for all Albertans.