County health officials are reminding Gilbert and other residents to keep their distance from bats after two rabid critters were found – one in a Costco parking lot in North Phoenix.
The other was found in Glendale and two people are receiving rabies shots because they touched it.
“Never, never, never touch bats is a good rule of thumb to follow,” said Craig Levy, epizoologist for the Maricopa County Department of Public Health. “Any bat on the ground is more likely to be rabid.”
The recent cases also serve as a reminder about how important it is to keep cats and dogs vaccinated against rabies, officials said.
The two discoveries bring to four the number of rabid creatures reported to health officials in the last six months. They included another rabid bat in Gilbert and a rabid fox in Apache Lake.
Rabies is a virus that infects the central nervous system, including the spinal cord and brain and is nearly always fatal once symptoms appear.
“Anyone who has had direct contact with a bat or other wild animals – especially foxes, skunks, and bobcats – should seek medical attention right away,” health officials said in a release. “Receiving the appropriate rabies vaccine and treatment after exposure is 100 percent effective in preventing rabies.”
In Arizona, rabies most commonly occurs in bats, skunks and foxes, but any mammal can contract the disease. Rabid animals may show unusual behavior or appear unstable.
Rabid carnivores such as skunks, foxes, bobcats and coyotes may become aggressive and may attempt to bite people, pets and livestock. Wild animals exhibiting unusual behavior should be reported to Arizona Game and Fish.
One example of unusual behavior in rabid wild animals is showing no fear of people and pets. Also, nocturnal animals with rabies may be active in daylight. And bats with rabies may be found on the ground or in swimming pools or may have been caught by a pet.
To prevent exposure, health officials said, people should keep themselves and their pets away from wild animals, especially sick or wounded ones, and have no contact with them. If someone has been bitten or scratched, or has had contact with a rabid animal, report it immediately to animal control or health officials.
They also said spaying pets reduces the number of unwanted animals that may not be vaccinated regularly.
Campers are advised not to sleep on the open ground and should stay in a closed tent or camper.
As for bats, don’t disturb roosting ones, which usually appear after nightfall.
“If you find a bat on the ground, don’t touch it. Report the bat and its location to your local animal control officer or health department,” the department said. “If a person or pet has come into contact with the bat, it will need to be tested for rabies. Place a box over the bat to contain it. Be careful not to damage the bat in any way since it must be intact for rabies testing.”
The state Department of Health Services reports that last year, Maricopa ranked third among all Arizona counties for the number of rabid creatures that were found.
But the 10 cases in Maricopa County were easily dwarfed by the 77 in Pima County and the 39 in Cochise County. In all, 155 rabid critters were found – more than half of them bats, followed by skunks and foxes.