Pitkin County Public Health is reminding residents and visitors to avoid contact with bats after eleven dead bats were recently found lying next to a local hiking trail in Snowmass Village.
“This is an unusual event and it caused some concern with Pitkin County Public Health staff because bats can carry the rabies virus,” said Public Health Director, Karen Koenemann.
Further investigation by a Colorado Parks and Wildlife veterinarian determined that a domestic cat had “a little too much fun” and was responsible for killing the bats, not rabies, in this case.
“No bats from Pitkin County have tested positive thus far this year for rabies, but there have been rabies-positive bats found here in the past,” Koenemann said.
This event served as a reminder that with the summer comes an increase in incidents of bat/human and bat/pet interactions in Pitkin County. While bats play an important role in nature by pollinating plants and eating insects, health officials warn that they may also carry the rabies virus, which infects the central nervous system, ultimately causing disease in the brain and death, if left untreated. Although less than 1% of wild bats carry rabies, contact with all bats should be avoided.
Pitkin County Environmental Health Manager, Kurt Dahl advises that “If you wake up with a bat in your bedroom, dead or alive, or have any indication you were bitten or scratched by a bat, do not touch, hit or destroy it. Leave the room, and if possible, close the door behind you to confine the bat away from humans and pets. Call your local animal control office to help collect the bat if possible, and they will notify public health to investigate and determine if preventive treatment is needed. If the bat is available for testing and test results are negative, preventive treatment is not needed,” Dahl said.
If pets are exposed to the rabies virus, they pose a risk of spreading the virus to people who come into contact with the animal. It is recommended that vaccinations are kept up-to-date for all dogs, cats, ferrets and other animals. Immediate veterinary assistance is advised for pets if they are bitten by a wild animal or exposed to a bat. In Pitkin County most dogs are vaccinated because of responsible pet owners. Cats are not required to be vaccinated, but Pitkin County Public Health, Pitkin County Animal Safety, Snowmass Village Animal Services, along with City of Aspen Police Department, strongly recommend getting cats vaccinated.
“We get significantly more calls about cats catching bats than dogs, which puts cats at a higher risk for contracting the rabies virus,” Dahl said.
Recommendations to help prevent the spread of rabies:
- Never touch or feed wild or stray animals. Don’t leave pet food outdoors.
- Call your local animal control office (Pitkin County: 970-920-5310 / Snowmass Village: 970-920-5310 / Aspen: 970-920-5310) to report a bat in your home. If you have a dead bat for testing, do not freeze it. The State Health Department has final say in the need to test a bat but an individual can always opt to have an animal tested, at their own cost.
- Report all potential bat exposures. Being close to bats without touching them is not an exposure but bat teeth are very small and it may be difficult, if not impossible to detect a bite or scratch from a bat. Call Pitkin County Public Health (970-920-5070) to report human exposure to a bat.
- Maintain homes and other buildings so bats cannot get inside. This includes putting screens on windows and closing doors which lead to the outside, paying particular attention to your bedroom, so you are protected while sleeping.
Contact: Karen Koenemann, Pitkin County Public Health Director
Contact: Kurt Dahl, Pitkin County Environmental Health Manager