JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas –
After a bat that tested positive for rabies was found at a Joint Base San Antonio residence recently, installation health officials are reminding residents to be careful, use common sense and take cautionary measures if they spot a bat on the installation.
A bat that was found in the yard of a residence at JBSA-Fort Sam Houston Sept. 30 tested positive for rabies, a disease that can be spread from wild animals to pets to people.
According to the Texas Department of Health, approximately one percent of bats in the San Antonio area carry the rabies virus. In 2018, there were 25 cases of bats testing positive for rabies in Bexar County.
Bats can get into homes and structures through small openings, one-half to one-fourth inches, such as crevices, eaves, window blinds or shutters.
Staff Sgt. Amber Salinas, 359th Aerospace Medicine Squadron community health element chief, said JBSA residents or members who spot a bat near or inside a structure should not attempt to touch it with their hands.
“If you see a bat resting outside on a wall of your residence, under roof hangings, or on the ground, leave it alone,” Salinas said. “You are not at risk unless you handle it.”
Salinas cautions people to keep children and pets away from an area where a bat has been found, so to prevent exposure to a bat that may have rabies.
“For bats that get trapped and are found inside a residence or installation building, the best way to remove it is to open a nearby window and doors, as bats will want to go outdoors,” Salinas added.
If the bat doesn’t leave, JBSA members and residents can call the Civil Engineering Emergency Service Call Desk at 210-652-3151. JBSA residents also have the option of contacting their housing office to get the bat removed.
Beverly Benson, Army Public Health Nursing rabies prevention program manager at JBSA-Fort Sam Houston, said people should avoid contact with a sick bat, which can be flopping around on the ground, because of the possibility they could contract rabies from it if they touch it. If residents find a sick bat, she said residents need to keep their pets and children away from it.
Rabies is spread to a pet or human from a bite or through a scratch with saliva from a rabid animal infected by it. The virus can also be transmitted by a pet who has been infected to other pets and humans they bite or scratch.
Any bare skin contact with a bat or its saliva, or waking up to a bat in your room, could put you at risk for exposure to rabies, according to Seattle & King County Public Health. Teach your kids not to touch bats, or any wild animal, and be sure to keep your pets away from bats. Talk to your family about the importance of respecting wildlife from a distance.
Any JBSA residents or members who find a sick or dead bat are urged to call the Civil Engineering Emergency Service Call Desk.
People who are bitten or scratched by a bat, or any animal that is infected by rabies, should wash the area that was bitten immediately with soap water and go to a medical provider immediately to get checked out. The rabies infection can be prevented through a series of five shots. A pet that comes in contact with or is bitten by a bat should be taken to a veterinarian immediately.
If not treated, Benson said rabies is a disease that is 100 percent fatal once symptoms begin.
Benson said bats have small teeth that even if they bite you, sometimes that bite can’t be felt and a person may not realize they have been bitten. Bats also leave small teeth marks that can disappear quickly.
For example, a sleeping person who wakes up to find a bat in the room they were in or sees a bat in a room in which a child or other person was in, should seek medical assistance immediately.
“You don’t want to take any chances,” Benson said.
Salinas said residents should keep their pets vaccinated against rabies as Texas law requires annual booster shots for pets.
Residents can take measures to prevent bats from entering their homes, as bats can enter tiny openings.
Preventive measures include having chimneys capped, openings around eaves caulked or filled in, filling any electrical or plumbing holes outside leading into the house, having one-fourth inch mesh hardware cloth installed behind vents or shutters, utilizing draft guards under doors, keeping window screens maintained and not leaving doors open.
Benson said bats are beneficial to the environment in that they eat insects. Because of this, she said JBSA members or residents should not intently harm or touch a bat.
Bats enjoy is eating large amounts of night-flying insects like mosquitos, termites, and agricultural pests, diminishing mosquito-related diseases and the need for pesticides, according to Bat Conservation International.
Others pollinate many valuable plants, ensuring the production of fruits that support local economies, as well as diverse animal populations. Fruit-eating bats in the tropics disperse seeds that are critical to restoring cleared or damaged rainforests.
Even bat droppings (called guano) are valuable as a rich natural fertilizer. Guano is a major natural resource worldwide, and, when mined responsibly with bats in mind, it can provide significant economic benefits for landowners and local communities.
For more information, contact the 359th AMDS Public Health Flight at 210-652-1876.