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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Not ‘batty’ for rabies

    A cyclist watches a stream of bats pour out from underneath the bridge along Campbell avenue over Rillito Creek on Wednesday evening.
    A cyclist watches a stream of bats pour out from underneath the bridge along Campbell avenue over Rillito Creek on Wednesday evening.

    Bats are commonly used in horror films to make a dark night even spookier. In reality, these creatures tend to leave humans alone, but they do pose a threat in transmitting rabies.

    The UA, in collaboration with the Arizona Department of Game and Fish and the Arizona Department of Health Services, created the Batty about Bats guide to educate the public about rabies exposure and bat conservation.

    “”In the last couple of years, we’ve had a relatively high number of children exposed to rabid bats in school environments,”” said Dawn Gouge, an associate professor and etymologist at the UA. “”We decided that we wanted to put together something on bats that would be user-friendly for schools.””

    The guide gives an overview of bats and how handling and playing with bats can lead to rabies exposure.

    Every summer, thousands of Mexican free-tailed bats migrate north to Tucson and live under bridges around the city. At sunset, the bats take flight creating a spooky spectacle that has become a local tradition.

    “”I would encourage people to take their kids to see those wonderful things and sights and to experience that, but from a distance,”” said Gouge. “”Bats are an extremely fascinating and wonderful part of our ecosystem.””

    Gouge said sick bats will exhibit abnormal behavior, leading them to end up on the ground, in perfect reach for children and domestic animals.

    “”They can be found flopping around on the ground and kids in particular are fascinated by that,”” she said. “”They pick them up, poke them with sticks and toss them around with their friends.””

    According to Craig Levy, program manager for the Arizona Department of Health Services’ vector-borne disease program, a sick bat on the ground has around a 15 to 20 percent chance of having rabies.

    “”The sick bats are the ones that are on the ground … that end up being easy access,”” he said. “”People are playing with them and they shouldn’t be.””

    Angie McIntire, the vet management coordinator for the Arizona Game and Fish Department, thinks there wouldn’t be a problem if people didn’t touch the sick bats.

    “”If the public didn’t handle bats that were on the ground we would have very few conflicts with bats and humans and the whole rabies issue,”” she said. “”Most bats don’t have rabies and the ones the public comes in contact with are most likely to be sick so it’s important to get that message out.””

    The rabies virus kills its host and causes animals to act out of character in order to make sure the animal passes on the virus before it dies, said Levy.

    “”Animals will actually come after you or attack dogs when they have the virus,”” said Levy. “”You’ve got animals out there that are walking time bombs.””

    In Arizona, there have been 106 reported rabid animals in 2009 alone, said Levy.

    “”For not even being halfway through the year, that is a very high number.””

    Both Gouge and Levy understand the importance of educating the public about bats and their potential threat.

    “”Some teachers are very aware, some are less so and it’s the same with parents,”” said Gouge. “”But if we educate the heck out of children, then everyone will get to hear about it.””

    “”The whole reason for educating is to try to get people to not do things that will put them at risk,”” said Levy. “”We want kids to know that you don’t pick up and play with bats that are on the ground and just by getting that kind of information out we can reduce the number of people that have to be treated every year.””

    Gouge doesn’t think people should be scared of bats, however, because the healthy bats won’t hurt you.

    “”They’ve just been portrayed as being scary creatures with the idea that they are out at night and they have those little vampire teeth,”” she said. “”They’re really awesome creatures.””

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