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Is the bat flopping on your porch sick, or just trying to get back into the air?
Tad Bassett, of Triangle Wildlife Removal, says it’s almost impossible to tell.
“When they’re on the ground, they’re kind of flapping around,” Basset said. “It’s hard to tell whether they’re trying to gain altitude or having a seizure.”
The only way to know for sure if a bat has rabies is to have the animal killed and tested.
That’s what happened last week when a bat removed from a Raleigh home last week tested positive for the virus, according to the Raleigh Police Department.
Wake County had more confirmed cases of rabies, 19, than any other county in the state last year.
All told, there were 303 confirmed cases of rabies in animals in North Carolina, an increase from 254 confirmed cases in 2017.
The bat removed from Biddestone Court in Raleigh was “acting abnormally” and had come into contact with a person and two dogs. The dogs were up to date on their vaccinations, so by the law they only needed a booster shot. The person was advised about post-exposure treatment.
Most bats don’t have rabies.
Last year only 2% of nearly 1,200 bats tested in North Carolina had the virus, according to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.
But bats are more likely than other animals to transmit the disease to humans, perhaps because there are so many more bats than other animals that can transmit the disease like raccoons, skunks and foxes, Bassett said.
Rabies attacks the brain and nervous system and is usually spread through bites and scratches. But health officials warn that deep sleepers might not even know when a bat has bitten them.
The disease can be fatal, but there is a vaccine to prevent it and effective post-exposure shots that tens of thousands of people undergo each year.
As a result, only one or two people die from rabies annually in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and only one person has contracted rabies in North Carolina in the last 60 years, according to the state health department.
To avoid rabies, experts say keep pets up to date on vaccinations, don’t approach or feed unknown animals, and don’t leave trash or food, including pet food, outside unless it is in a container with a tight lid.
If you come into contact with or see any animal acting strangely, call animal control.
If a bat ends up inside your home, Bassett suggests trapping it until professionals arrive.
“Just use common sense,” he said. “If it’s in the house, put a bucket over it or something.”
Bats that come into contact with humans or pets will need to be tested. If the animal can’t be captured, Bassett said anyone who came into contact with the bat or with pets that may have contacted it will need to undergo post-exposure treatment for rabies.
According to the NC Wildlife Resources Commission, there are 17 species of bats in North Carolina, including three endangered and one threatened species. They are important pollinators for some plants and help control mosquitoes as well as insects that damage crops.
Bats commonly share homes with people, often moving into attics without residents knowing.
Removing them usually involves covering their entry points with a one-way door except for May through July, when bats breed and raise their young. The pups can’t all fly out during this time, so removing the adults would leave the pups to starve or find another way out.
“The unforeseen consequence is that if they’re trapped, they’re more likely to get inside the house with you,” Bassett said.
Bassett said he has more than 60 homes waiting for bat removal and around 20 bats living in the gable ends of his own house.
His solution? Live and let live.
“If they were that dangerous in the attic, the Wildlife Commission would say to get them out right away,” he said.
Bassett said he does have to clean the areas inhabited by bats every year, to prevent damage from their droppings and urine, but he appreciates their function as pest control.
“They can eat thousands of mosquitoes a night, like nature’s own insect control,” Bassett said. “That’s why I keep them around my house.”
North Carolina requires that all dogs, cats and ferrets be vaccinated for rabies by 4 months old. Here are some low-cost options.
The Durham County Sheriff’s Office Animal Services Division offers cash-only vaccines for $10 on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
- Vetco will hold vaccination clinics at the Petco on Durham Chapel Hill Boulevard on July 20 and August 17, with $10 rabies vaccines.
- Vetco will hold vaccination clinics at the Petco on East Franklin Street on July 20 and August 17, with $10 rabies vaccines.
- Orange County Animal Services will offer one- and three-year rabies vaccines from 10 a.m. to noon July at Schley Grange Hall for $10. A previous rabies certificate is required for the three-year vaccine. Microchips will also be available for $35.
- Wake County will offer $5 vaccines in Fuquay-Varina in October and Apex in November.
- Cary - Vetco will hold vaccination clinics at the Petco on O’Kelly Chapel Road on July 13 and August 17, with $10 rabies vaccines.
- Knightdale - Vetco will hold vaccination clinics at Petco on July 14 and 28 and August 11 and 25, with $10 rabies vaccines.