Bat on Martha's Vineyard Tests Positive for Rabies

From the Town of Tisbury:

On February 21, 2019 the Tisbury Board of Health was advised that a bat tested positive for rabies at the Massachusetts State Public Health Laboratory. Although bats are known to carry rabies and pose a risk to human and animal health, this is the first time a rabid bat has been documented on Martha’s Vineyard since testing began in 1985.

Rabies is a serious viral disease that can be spread through the saliva of an infected animal by a bite, scratch or if the saliva gets into a person’s eyes, nose or mouth. Rabies is 100% preventable if an exposed person receives prompt rabies prophylaxis. However, it is fatal if treatment is not initiated in a timely manner. Almost all human cases of rabies acquired in the United States since 1990 have been due to a bat strain of the virus.

Any direct contact with a bat should be considered a rabies exposure unless the person can be sure that a bite or scratch did not occur. The teeth and claws of bats are so small that a bite or scratch may leave only a very small mark and the wound may not bleed or hurt. This means that under certain conditions, a person may not realize that an exposure has occurred. These conditions include: a sleeping person awaking to find a bat in the room; or an adult witnessing a bat in the room with a previously unattended child, mentally disabled person, or intoxicated person. Pets found in a room with a bat may also have been exposed.

Rabies post-exposure prophylaxis for people consists of wound treatment and, for previously unvaccinated persons, the administration of both rabies immune globulin (RIG) and vaccine. Rabies post-exposure prophylaxis is always effective at preventing disease when administered promptly. If a pet is exposed to rabies by a bat, the veterinarian should be consulted for next steps.

Any time you believe you may have been exposed, please contact the MDPH, Division of Epidemiology and Immunization at 617-983-6800 (available 24 hours) to discuss the situation.

According to MDPH, out of 889 bats tested for rabies in 2018 from across the state, 26 were positive. On average, about 3% off bats tested for rabies are positive. This positive test is a reminder that, although the incidence of rabies in bats is extremely low, bats, like any mammal, can carry rabies.  Steps can be taken however to protect your family and pets.

Important reminders:

How can I keep myself and others from getting rabies?

  • Teach children to never approach animals they don’t know – even if they appear friendly.
  • Report any animal that behaves oddly to your local animal control official.
  • Enjoy wild animals from a distance. Do not keep wild animals as pets. This is against the law in Massachusetts.
  • Make sure your pets are vaccinated against rabies. By law, all dogs, cats and ferrets must be regularly vaccinated against rabies.
  • Keep your chimney capped and repair holes in attics, cellars, and porches to help keep wild animals like bats out of your home.

What you should do if you think you’ve been exposed to rabies:

If you are bitten or scratched by a bat:

  • Wash the wound with soap and water right away for ten minutes.
  • Call your doctor or MDPH. They can help you determine if you need to be treated for rabies exposure.
  • If the bat can be safely captured, call your local Board of Health to have the bat submitted for rabies testing.

What you should do if you think your pet has been exposed to rabies:

  • If your pet has direct contact with a bat or is found in the same room with a bat:
  • Call your veterinarian to help you determine if the animal needs medical attention.
  • In some cases, it may be necessary to confine your animal and watch it to see if it develops signs of rabies. Your local Animal Inspector or Animal Control Officer can help you determine if this is necessary.

Please read the following important information: 1.)Capturing a bat  2.)What to do if a bat is in your home  3.)Bat inspection in homes

For more information on rabies prevention, contact the MDPH Division of Epidemiology & Immunization at 617-983-6800, visit the MDPH website contact your local Board of Health at the following numbers:

Aquinnah Board of Health (508) 645-2300

Chilmark Board of Health (508) 645-2105

Edgartown Board of Health (508) 627-6120

Oak Bluffs Board of Health (508) 693-3554

Tisbury Board of Health (508) 696-4290

West Tisbury Board of Health (508) 696-0105

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