03 November 2006

Bat Bites

From the Associated Press:

November 02,2006 | INDIANAPOLIS -- A 10-year-old girl who was diagnosed with Indiana's first confirmed case of rabies in nearly half a century died Thursday, a hospital spokeswoman said.

Shannon Carroll had been bitten by a rapid bat in June and had been hospitalized since early October, said Riley Hospital for Children spokeswoman Jo Ann Klooz said.

More than 30 of the girl's relatives, friends and classmates were offered injections to prevent the spread of the disease. Some parents whose children attend the girl's school in Bourbon, 25 miles south of South Bend, worried about possible exposure since rabies can stay dormant for more than a year.

Rabies is a viral disease transmitted to humans and other animals through saliva, usually in a bite. It attacks the brain and nervous system and typically leads to death once symptoms appear. Human-to-human transmission of rabies is possible through direct contact with saliva, health officials said.

State records show Indiana's last human rabies case was in 1959, when a Sullivan County resident died from the disease.

The details on this are a bit sketchy, as journalists are usually not very good on providing the information that's most interesting to health professionals. From what I can gather from earlier news items, though, there was apparently a bat found in the girl's house in June. I can't tell if it was known that she was bitten beforehand, but in many of these cases the people don't know they've been bitten. The species of bats seen most commonly in North America have tiny teeth that generally don't penetrate the skin completely.

From one news report, I was able to gather that the virus was identified as bat strain from molecular testing, which is common practice in human cases these days. So my assumption is that they're piecing together information rather than working from prior knowledge of a bite, particularly since there was about a 4 month gap between the presumptive exposure and the time she was hospitalized with symptoms of the disease with no apparent treatment in the interim.

So my point with all this - and I do actually have one - is that you should never take a bat in the house lightly. Yes, bats are very important from an ecological standpoint and, I think, wondrously beautiful creatures. I've always had a fondness for and fascination with them. Watching them flying around outside in the evening is a great summertime pleasure - not the least because I know they're eating the goddamned mosquitoes. Nonetheless, a bat found in my house would be tested for rabies, period. I'm vaccinated and check my antibody titers annually, so I don't worry about myself, or even my animals, who are all vaccinated. I would never, ever take a chance, though, that might put David's life at risk. I would hope that the rest of you would do the same for yourself and your loved ones.

And now I'll get off my soapbox.


Anonymous said...

Hey Mel! I have learned a LOT about rabies this fall. Check out original post, http://knitnzu.livejournal.com/?skip=12 (you have to scroll down to the post "rabid"...a big brown bat (pic on blog)...didn't see a bite, but as you noted, they are hard to see. Thankfully we vaccinate our dog and so does my friend. Otherwise these beautiful pups would've been put down! The 45 day quarantine just ended, check out Nov 2 post. The bat was EATING the dirt. I wasn't sure if that was the case, but a bat person in Idaho just the other day told me that, yes, bats do indeed bite at any inanimate object when they are rabid. She has a soapbox too and it involves folks thinking any bat in the daytime is necessarily rabid...and referred me to the cdc site, which says, treat any bat you encounter during the day as potentially rabid. So I was confused. The whole quarantine was pretty awful, mostly just a required legality. But a few days into it we found out that the two teenage girls a couple doors down had just finished the rabies treatment because one of them was woken up by a bat in her room. The cdc protocol is to treat these situations as though the child (because children are heavy sleepers) was indeed bitten, even if they don't know it or can't see the bite (which as you noted may be miniscule). They didn't have the bat to test, so they assumed it was rabid. Our animal control officer was very informative about the virus, but his job is the law and he only knows so much. Like you, he is vaccinated and checks his titers. This got me thinking about a question, he didn't know the answer...here's the question...can the rabies titer test be done on a potentially exposed vaccinated pet so they do not need to be quarantined so strictly (like maybe we could take them on leashed walks). The vet said they do do the rabies titer on dogs, for various reasons, but she couldn't help w/ the legal question and referred me to the local cdc. THAT person was very VERY unpleasant... just kept quoting me the law. I asked, is it because there is a false reporting in the titer? Can a person have adequate antibodies and still contract rabies? (I've since discovered from cdc site that this may be so)...I told her I was obeying the quarantine, but was frustrated and just wanted some understanding... she just kept quoting the law and then got MAD and said "I don't know why you need to be talking to me, you've talked to the epidemiologist in the field, you talked to the vet, you talked to the ACO". I was pretty pissed and planned to report her, but the whole thing is over now...still, it was unprofessional. So, from what I understand of the maine rabies protocols, if your animal is vaccinated and is either definitely exposed to a rabid animal or potentially exposed to a confirmed rabid animal or even definitely exposed to an animal whose rabies status is not known, this means 45 day in home quarantine. My friend had the latter case (her silly shephard bit a raccoon, who just looked at her and walked away), but she had a laxer 30 d quarantine. Between then and now there was a case in Augusta with a wolf hybrid bite...do you remember this a couple years ago? I think that case stirred things up, at least around here. The 2 dogs were euthanized because the woman who was bit couldn't distinguish which one bit her. There was some issue that she may have been taunting them as they were tied outside their house. The owner took it to court, but in the end the judge went with the euthanization. So sad. Ok, off MY soapbox! But if you know anything about the titer test I'd be interested.

Anonymous said...

Holy crapola. I may talk to my doc about getting a rabies shot since I work up here in bat land at leafy new england women's college. Eek.