July 24, 2014 5:20 pm

Stay away from bats: Vancouver Coastal Health

Vancouver Coastal Health is warning people in the Lower Mainland to beware of bats that can carry potentially fatal rabies virus.

Rabies affects the central nervous system and can be fatal.

Bats can transmit the disease to humans when their saliva comes into contact with a person’s mucus membranes or through a break in the skin.

In 2003, a B.C. resident died of rabies after contracting the bat strain of the virus.

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People are asked to avoid physical contact with bats, dead or alive, and seek immediate medical attention if they are bitten or scratched by a bat.

While rabies can be prevented with a vaccine if given soon after exposure to the virus, immunization is ineffective once symptoms develop.

VCH says in the last year five bats in B.C. tested positive for the disease. One of those bats was found in Vancouver’s Kitsilano area.

The majority of human contact with bats happens between July and September when bats are most active.

Prevention tips:

• Do not touch live or dead bats
• If you know of bats living in a building and would like to learn more about whether you need to or how to safely evict them, see http://www.bcbats.ca.
• Avoid locations or activities where bats are likely to be encountered (e.g. caves)
• If you have a pet dog, cat or ferret, make sure that it is vaccinated regularly against rabies
• Warn children about the risks of exposure to rabies (e.g. not approaching wildlife or handling bats)
• In the Lower Mainland, injured bats can be reported to the Wildlife Rescue Association at 604-526-7275. On the Sunshine Coast, injured bats can be reported to the Gibsons Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre at 604-886-4989.

If you have been bitten or scratched:

• Thoroughly wash the bite or scratch with soap and water, using lots of water to flush the wound
• In the case of handling a bat, wash hands thoroughly
• Seek medical attention right away
• If the bat is still alive and available, have a wildlife expert capture it and contact VCH at 604-675-3900 for testing. If the bat is dead, simply contact VCH.

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