West Glacier, MT
– Last Thursday, Glacier County Health Department confirmed that a bat that scratched a park resident in the St. Mary area was rabid. The person is currently undergoing a series of rabies vaccinations. This was the first known case of a rabid bat in Glacier National Park this year.
Typically, rabies does not cause large outbreaks in bat colonies and tends to be limited to a small number of individuals. Less than one percent of bats have rabies.
Glacier National Park joins partner county health agencies and National Park Service wildlife veterinarians in urging people to become aware of rabies risks in bats and skunks.
If a bat or skunk has had human contact, it’s vital to safely capture the animal and submit it for rabies testing. Without testing, it is impossible to tell if the animal is carrying rabies, and the exposed person should undergo a preventative series of rabies vaccinations for humans. There is no cure for rabies once a human contracts it.
People can take additional precautions by properly screening homes and seasonal cabins. Historic buildings with gaps, outbuildings, and other structures that are routinely left open are particularly susceptible to bats.
“Rabies is not something that most people think about on a regular basis,” said Glacier National Park Superintendent Jeff Mow. “However, if you come into physical contact with a bat, it’s important to know that there are resources available to you and testing procedures you must follow to protect your health and that of your family.”
While bats do pose a small rabies risk in humans, they also play an important role in area ecosystems, eating a number of nighttime insects, including agricultural pests.
Living sustainably alongside bats can often be accomplished with the right tools and timing of mitigation measures. Most of the bat roosts in the St. Mary park area are maternity roosts and due to time of year, pups still cannot fly. Therefore, the park will seal any indoor roost spaces it discovers after bats have left in September.
This is a vulnerable population at a sensitive time of year. Little brown bats have been significantly impacted by white-nose syndrome in other parts of the country. Since bats typically only have one pup per year, survival of that pup is important for sustaining the population. White-nose syndrome is not yet in Montana, but it continues to spread across the country.
Public health and human safety is always the priority. The park also strives to protect the health of bats.
Taking responsible measures to exclude bats from buildings whenever possible, and seeking testing and/or treatment following an exposure are important steps to take when living alongside this species. Bat exclusion is an ongoing task in park buildings, many of which are older and are vacant for a significant portion of the year.
People exposed to a bat or skunk should be aware of testing protocols and call their county health department immediately for specific instructions. Glacier County Health Department can be reached at 406-873-2924. Flathead City-County Health Department can be reached at 406-751-8101.
In order to test a bat or a skunk for rabies the brain/head must be intact and must be refrigerated until sent for testing (do not freeze).
The public should always follow common rabies prevention tips:
- Do not feed or handle wild animals, especially bats. Teach children never to touch wild animals or handle bats, even dead ones. Ask children to tell an adult if they see or find a bat.
- Vaccinate your dogs and cats against rabies. Cats are particularly susceptible to rabies exposure due to a higher risk of interaction with wild animals.
- Bat-proof your house. Place screens on all windows, doors and chimneys to prevent bats from entering.
- Prevent bats from roosting in attics or buildings by covering outside entry points. However, to avoid trapping any young bats who will die or try to make their way into your rooms, seal the openings permanently after August or in the fall after the bats have left for the season.
- Watch for abnormal wild animal behavior. Most wild animals avoid humans and seeing skunks and bats during the daytime is rare. If you see an animal acting strangely, leave it alone and contact law enforcement or animal control if you think it may pose a danger.