So far, this year, Winnebago County Health Department reports only one bat positive with rabies. Last year, Winnebago County reported 3 bats positive. This year, the State of Illinois is reporting 64 bats confirmed positive
for rabies in several counties. In 2008, 103 bats tested positive for rabies in Illinois.

A case of human rabies has not been reported in Illinois since 1954. “Nevertheless, the potential is there with the increasing documentation of infected bats and some skunks in the last 2-3 years. This time of year, in late summer, also presents increased risk,” said Mike Bacon, public health administrator of Winnebago County Health Department. It is important not to be complacent,” added Mike.

State Public Health Director, Dr. Damon Arnold states, “Each year in the summer many bat exposures occur in the state. We’ve already received numerous phone calls this summer about people being exposed to bats. It’s important to remember that you should never try to approach or catch a bat in your home.  Instead, call your local animal control agency for their recommendations.”

Rabies is a highly infectious viral disease that affects the nervous system of humans and other ammals. People 
get rabies from the bite of an animal with rabies (a rabid animal). Any wild mammal, like a raccoon, skunk, fox, coyote, or bat, can have rabies and transmit it to people. It is also possible, but quite rare, that people may get rabies if infectious material from a rabid animal, such as saliva, gets directly into their eyes, nose, mouth, or wound.  

Without preventive treatment, rabies is a fatal disease.  Information about rabies can be found

“You cannot tell by looking at a bat if it is rabid.  The animal does not have to be foaming at the mouth or be exhibitingother symptoms to have rabies,” said Connie Austin, state public health veterinarian.  “Any wild mammal, such as a raccoon, skunk, fox, coyote or bat, can have rabies and transmit it to humans.”

Changes in any animal’s normal behavior, such as difficulty walking or an overall appearance of illness, can be early signs of rabies.  For example, rabid skunks, which normally are nocturnal and avoid contact with people, may approach humans during daylight hours.  A bat that is active during the day, found on the ground, or is unable to fly, is more likely than others to be rabid.  Such bats are often easily approached but should never be handled.

Other prevention guidelines include:
  • People should NOT be allowed to occupy a room in which bats are found; until it is certain that no bats remain in the room and that the room has been sealed to prevent their re-entry.
  • Rabid bats may exhibit no obvious abnormalities, so all contact with bats should be avoided
  • If a bat is found indoors, the structure should be thoroughly inspected for the presence of roosting bats.
  • Exclusion remains the best way to prevent and control bats in a structure.
  • Where there is a likelihood of encountering bats, such as at children’s outdoor camps, people should be instructed not to touch bats.
  • Be a responsible pet owner. Keep vaccinations up-to-date for all dogs, cats and ferrets.
  • Do not handle, feed or unintentionally attract wild animals with open garbage cans or litter. Never adopt wild animals or bring them into your home. Do not try to nurse sick animals to health. Call animal control or an animal rescue agency for assistance.
  • Teach children never to handle unfamiliar animals, wild or domestic, even if they appear friendly. “Love your own, leave other animals alone” is a good principle for children to learn to reduce the risk of exposures to rabid animals.
  • Call the local law enforcement or animal control agency for direction as to whom to contact for the remove of contained stray animals in your neighborhood.

More information about rabies is available by calling the Health Department at (815) 720-4000 and asking for the Communicable Disease program. Exclusion remains the best way to prevent and control bats in a structure.

Information about exclusion can be found by logging on to the Illinois Department of Public Health Web site at

For information about a referral for capturing bats or for instructions on submission of appropriate specimens for testing, please call Winnebago County Animal Services at (815) 319-4100.

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