by Sam Levin
The St. Louis County Department of Health's Animal Care and Control program has received the first positive rabies specimen in 2013.
The specimen, officials say, in an announcement this morning, was a bat found in a home in the University City area. The health department cautions residents to avoid handling wild animals, especially bats and skunks.
And if you do come across a bat -- dead or alive -- don't try to capture it! Confine it to a room until animal-control officers can collect it and test it for rabies. More tips below!
The health department says:
To reach Animal Care and Control during regular business hours (Monday -- Friday; 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.; and Saturday; 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.), call 314-615-0650. After regular business hours, call 314-889-2341.
While this is the first positive rabies specimen in the county, rabies has been found in other regions of Missouri this year, primarily in skunks and bats, officials note.
"So far this year, we have submitted 170 specimens for rabies testing due to probable exposure," says Rebecca Smail, program manager of Vector Control and Veterinary Services, in a statement. "Only one bat has come back positive for rabies, although we are awaiting results on 15 recent submissions."
In 2012, there were a total of three specimens sent for testing that had rabies.
More information from the county health department:
Never release a bat found in a home if it was present while people were sleeping or if it was found in the same room with children or adults who, due to health or age, may not be able to describe the extent of their exposure.
Most bats don't carry rabies, and, in fact, perform a beneficial service by eating large quantities of insects; but if one bat in a colony contracts rabies, the chances are that it will spread to other members of the colony.
Health officials urge people to be aware of and cautious around wildlife, especially bats, and to avoid direct contact with any animal that is behaving strangely. Children should be taught to stay a safe distance away from any unknown animals.
Smail said people should check with their veterinarians on the immunization status of their pets. Because rabies can be readily passed from wild animals to domestic pets, the first line of defense is to make sure all cats and dogs are properly vaccinated, as required by county ordinance. Once transmitted, the disease of rabies has no cure and is almost always fatal.