TWIN FALLS — The bat maternity season has ended, and Idahoans can now expect to see migratory bat species passing through town.
In September and October, silver-haired bats and little brown bats may stop at people’s homes, businesses and gardens to rest before moving on.
And already, the calls are coming in. Just this week, Idaho Fish and Game Regional Biologist Ross Winton responded to a request to come downtown and investigate a bat at a business.
But most of the time, he said, there isn’t any need to contact the health department or Fish and Game.
“It’s not very common for someone to get bit by a bat,” Winton said.
Typically, bats are only euthanized and tested for rabies if there has been a human exposure. In 2017 to date, 13 bats have tested positive for rabies in Idaho. None of them were in the Magic Valley.
Since 1999, the state has recorded an average of 15 bats per year tested positive for rabies.
This might sound common, but it’s estimated that fewer than one-tenth of 1 percent of bats have rabies.
“Rabies is not epidemic, ever, in bats,” State Wildlife Action Plan Coordinator Rita Dixon said.
And there are still a lot of misconceptions about the species and the virus itself.
“Rabies awareness and preventing human exposure to rabid bats is a priority,” Dixon said. “We want to make sure we balance that with bat conservation.”
How is rabies transmitted?
In Idaho, bats are the only species known to be a source of rabies. You cannot contract rabies from a bat’s blood, urine, feces or fur – but you should never touch one, Dixon said.
The primary transmission of rabies is through a bite, but the virus is found in the bat’s brain tissue, shed through its saliva. The saliva could infect a person if it touched an open wound, their eyes or nose.
Pets should get rabies vaccinations to prevent them from getting the virus. Human vaccinations have been developed, but cost thousands of dollars.
What does rabies do to a bat?
Bats only contract the paralytic form of rabies, Dixon said — not the furious form like you may have seen in “Old Yeller.” When a bat gets rabies — usually from another bat — the bat stops drinking, Dixon said.
What happens next: The bat becomes dehydrated. It loses its appetite. It no longer forages for food. It becomes emaciated and weak.
And then, it can end up on the ground and be more easily picked up by a dog, cat or a child. Eventually, the bat dies from the virus.
But it’s important to note that just because a bat is on the ground, that doesn’t mean it’s rabid. Bats can also be injured by other animals and cars.
What kind of bats are in Idaho?
There are 14 species of bats in Idaho. Two of them are migratory. None of Idaho’s bats drink blood, pollinate or eat fruit — all of them are insect-eating species.
What if I come into physical contact with a bat (or am not sure)?
Call South-Central Public Health District at 208-734-5900.