By Shelley Grieshop
Two Celina residents are undergoing a series of vaccinations after a rabid bat was found dead in their home Friday morning.
Although no one in the house had a visible bite wound, a series of rabies shots was recommended for an adult and child who were closest in proximity to the bedroom where the animal was found.
Michelle Kimmel, director of environmental health at the Mercer County-Celina City Health Department, says the family contacted the local health department and an official there drove the specimen to the state lab in Columbus on Friday afternoon. By evening, the family was notified of the results.
"At that time the series of shots was recommended for both residents just to be on the safe side," Kimmel said.
Human rabies shots are not the long needle, excruciating vaccinations of the past, Kimmel said. But to prevent the rabies virus from causing illness and/or death, the series of shots are necessary, she adds. There likely are more animals infected with the rabies virus locally than people realize, she says. About 4 percent of the overall bat population carries rabies. In Ohio, bats are more often the carrier of the virus than any other animal; raccoons run a close second.
Part of the problem locally is that people living in agricultural/livestock-oriented communities don't always take the matter seriously when finding a dead animal. Unless someone's been bitten, people don't typically bring dead animals in for testing, Kimmel explains.
"(Rabies) is always around us, we just don't get confirmation like this on a regular basis. I think we get a little complacent about it sometimes," she said.
Bats seek out cave-like dwellings like garages, Kimmel says. It's also not unusual to see them flying erratically around homes with tall trees, swooping down into chimneys or open attic windows. Because bats can fit into very small openings, health officials recommend performing a home check and closing all openings where the animals can enter.
Kimmel said she'd like to warn the public to beware of animals displaying suspicious behavior -- particularly immediately prior to their death. She urges anyone who comes in contact with a suspected animal to call the health department immediately. Rabies tests are performed free as a public service.
"We normally get about 12 to 20 testing specimens each year, but most of those are from biting incidents," she says. "We'd like to have more so we can be more accurate about what's going on out there."
Anyone who suspects an animal -- dead or alive -- of being ill, should contact their local health department for advice. Officials urge residents to refrain from touching or carrying the suspected animal unless instructed to do so.
Mercer County health officials can be reached at 419-586-3251; Auglaize County residents can call 419-738-3410.