After Illinois recorded its first human case of rabies in nearly 70 years this week, the Illinois Department of Public Health released guidance on what to should residents find bats in their homes.
"If you see a bat, don't touch that!" IDPH said in a post on social media.
Colonies of bats can be found in attics and chimneys, according to the health department, so people should perform routine exclusions.
However, IDPH noted that permanent evictions of bats dwelling in non-living spaces, such as an attic, can only be performed from March 15 to May 15 and again from Aug. 5 to Oct. 30 due to outdoor departures at dusk.
"Bats can be excluded by sealing exterior openings larger than ¼ inch by using caulk, expandable foam, plywood, mortar, metal flashing, steel wool or ¼ inch mesh screen or netting," according to IDPH. "Make sure doors, windows, and vents have screens and are securely framed, chimneys are capped, and gaps around utility lines are plugged."
Should residents find a bat inside their home, IDPH asked that people contact their city or county local animal control to aid in the removal.
If the bat is disturbing the house or work space, health officials said it must be captured, but should not be touched. Here's how they recommend to properly capture a bat:
- Trap the bat inside a room, if possible
- If the bat cannot be held inside a room, trap the bat in a box and slide cardboard underneath; or capture inside a blanket
- Do not release the bat until the local health department is notified of the animal
The health department warned that people should always wear gloves when handling a bat and never touch the animal with their bare hands.
In mid-August, a Lake County man in his 80s woke up with a bat on his neck in, IDPH said. The bat was caught and tested positive for rabies.
The man was told he needed to begin post-exposure rabies treatment, but declined, according to the health department.
One month later, IDPH said the man started feeling symptoms consistent with rabies, such as neck pain, headache, difficulty controlling his arms, finger numbness and difficulty speaking.
The man later died, IDPH said.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed the diagnosis Tuesday.
People who were in contact with secretions from the man were assessed and given preventative treatment for rabies, according to a release.
“Rabies has the highest mortality rate of any disease,” said IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike. “However, there is life-saving treatment for individuals who quickly seek care after being exposed to an animal with rabies. If you think you may have been exposed to rabies, immediately seek medical attention and follow the recommendations of health care providers and public health officials.”
IDPH noted that human rabies cases are rare in the U.S., with typically one to three cases reported each year. Exposure to rabies is common, though, with about 60,000 Americans receiving post-exposure vaccines each year.
Rabies infects the central nervous system, IDPH added, causing disease in the brain and, ultimately, death. The virus is typically fatal without preventative treatment.
"Bats are the most commonly identified species with rabies in Illinois," IDPH said in a release. "Wildlife experts did find a bat colony in the home of the individual who died."