Several people in the Bangor area have been manipulating a rabid bat with bare hands last weekend, and public health authorities are asking the public for help in identifying those who might have manipulated it. They probably need rabies post-exposure vaccines.
The living bat was found near Shaw House, the youth shelter on Union and First Streets, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. It was passed on to several people who handled it with bare hands at several locations in the Bangor area on March 16 and 17.
Ann Rivers, director of the Acadia Wildlife Foundation in Bar Harbor, has been involved in researching 10 to 12 people who may have handled the bat without wearing gloves. The bat was taken to the Rivers Rehabilitation Center and the decision was made to test it.
After his death, the bat tested positive for rabies at Maine's health and environmental testing lab, the CDC said Friday. Those who have had direct skin contact with the bat, and who do not wear gloves, rags or other barriers, are at risk of contracting rabies.
Only those who have handled the bat with bare hands are at risk of contracting rabies. There is no risk to the general public in the area where the bat has been found among those who have not touched the animal.
Bats with unusual behavior – such as being easily approached, active during the day, or unable to fly – could be infected with rabies, according to the Maine CDC. Most bats do not have rabies.
Rivers said Friday that only one in 10,000 bats had rabies. Bats contract the virus by being bitten by a rabid animal. Bats injured and found in homes are often deposited at the foundation, she said.
"This is the first case of rabies in a bat that I have seen in 30 years," she said. "Bats can be captured safely if people wear gloves."
Rivers said it was difficult to find the people who were handling the bat because they are suspected of being part of the Bangor homeless community. In addition to passing the message to the city's shelters and soup kitchens, churches that offer free meals once a week have been recruited to try to find people who handle the animal.
Rabies is deadly but preventable if treated promptly after exposure. People who have had direct skin contact with the bat should start antirabies prophylaxis as soon as possible, said the Maine CDC. Treatment includes two injections: one with human anti-rabies immunoglobulin and rabies vaccine.
Rivers says that people can receive treatment at no cost.
Rabies is spread when infected animals sting or scratch an animal or a person. The virus can also be transmitted if saliva or brain or spinal cord tissue enters broken skin, mouth, nose or eyes.
To help prevent the spread of rabies, the CDC recommends never to touch a wild animal or an unknown animal.
The CDC is asking those who have had direct skin contact with a bat in the Bangor area on the weekend of March 16 and 17 to contact their health care provider to discuss the risks and determine if they must be treated. They can also call the CDC at 800-821-5821.
People who find bats or other injured animals can call Rivers for advice at 207-288-4960.