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Cook County is releasing an interactive map of bats affected by rabies

These are dark winged creatures that lurk in the shadows, animals shrouded in mysterious folklore, old tales associate them with bloodsucking vampires. Bats remain one of the most enduring images of Halloween, with images in scary movies and yard decor. Although bats are terrifying in nature, what danger do they pose to humans?

To inform residents, the Cook County Department of Animal and Rabies Control released a Halloween-inspired orange interactive map showing flying bat locations throughout the county with tiny flying bat icons. Bats are everywhere in Cook County, and the map aims to raise awareness about rabies prevention.

Mark Rosenthal, deputy director of the ARC, advises Cook County residents to be cautious but not to panic. This time of year can cause some fear about these nocturnal flyers, but Rosenthal assures people that the “vast majority” of bats do not carry the virus.

“Residents shouldn’t be too worried,” Rosenthal said. “Bats serve a useful purpose and are important to the county’s ecosystem because they consume large numbers of insects.”

Although bats are not a common sight in Chicago, they test positive for rabies every year CHI Health Alert Network. On average, Cook County determines about 25 rabid bats every year. Bats too species most commonly identified with rabies in Illinois.

The county’s interactive map shows bats had the highest number of rabies cases in 2018, with 27 bats testing positive. In 2020, Cook County had the fewest rabid bats recorded, with only six testing positive.

Without preventive treatment, rabies in humans is almost always fatal. According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, rabies-related deaths usually occur in people who do not seek medical attention, most often because they do not know they are being exposed.

Prompt intervention is key, Rosenthal said, recommending that people seek medical attention immediately after being exposed or bitten.

In September 2021 IDPH reported the first human case of rabies since 1954. A Lake County resident in his 80s found a bite on his neck but refused treatment and later died.

The first symptoms of rabies in humans can be similar to those of other diseases, including fever, headache, and general weakness or discomfort. As the disease progresses, people may experience more specific symptoms such as insomnia, anxiety, confusion, mild or partial paralysis, hallucinations, agitation, increased salivation, and fear of water. In the case of Lake County, it took a month for symptoms to appear.

While people often associate bats with the fall season, the likelihood of bat contact is actually higher in the summer due to bat migration and feeding patterns.

“Bats are most active during warm weather and will seek shelter during cold weather,” Rosenthal said. “That’s why it’s important to protect entrances to houses and attics from bats.”

Humans are usually exposed to the rabies virus from the bite of an infected animal. Despite what horror movies or TV shows show, bats have very small teeth, so bite marks can be harder to spot. According to Rosenthal, a bat bite will look like small puncture marks.

Rosenthal said a potentially infected bat will exhibit abnormal behavior, such as being unable to fly, lying on the ground and active during the day, or may be found in an unusual location, such as inside a house. However, experts like Rosenthal recommend talking to a doctor or health care provider immediately after an exposure or bite, regardless of whether the bat looks sick or not.

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“Rabies is not a visible disease,” Rosenthal said. “Laboratory testing of bats completed to determine if they test positive for rabies.”

Rosenthal advised pet owners to take special precautions. The disease is “100% preventable” and “always fatal” for unvaccinated pets, he said. The most important thing owners can do is make sure their pets, including domestic cats, have received their rabies vaccine and all other vaccines, he said.

“There is a misconception that domestic cats cannot be exposed to the virus, which is not true,” Rosenthal said. “Bats can and do enter homes. Ensuring pets receive vaccines is the best way to protect them.”

To prevent the spread of the virus, the county hosts low-cost or free clinicswho helped vaccinate more than 5,000 pets against rabies this year.

The last ARC clinic is scheduled for November 5th.

The department also urges residents to avoid contact with wild animals. Residents who come across a sick or dead bat should contact their local animal control department or the police.

For questions or to report a suspected case, Chicagoans can call the Chicago Health Department’s Disease Reporting Hotline at 312-743-9000. After hours, on weekends and holidays, call 311 or 312-744-5000 if you are outside the Chicago city limits.


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