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NM Health Officials Caution Public about Bats with Rabies

PHOTO: Two bats that tested positive for rabies in the Albuquerque area have state health officials urging the public to avoid all wild animals, living or dead. CREDIT: U.S. Geological Survey.
PHOTO: Two bats that tested positive for rabies in the Albuquerque area have state health officials urging the public to avoid all wild animals, living or dead. CREDIT: U.S. Geological Survey.
June 9, 2014

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - Health officials are urging the public to be on the lookout after at least two bats in the Albuquerque area tested positive for potentially fatal rabies. Dr. Paul Ettestad, public health veterinarian at the New Mexico Department of Health, said in one case, a woman found a bat crawling on her feet before kicking it away.

"Bats have very small teeth and very small claws," Ettestad said. "Sometimes you can't observe a bite. So this woman is undergoing vaccination shots for preventing her from getting rabies, which is a 100 percent fatal disease."

According to Ettestad, rabies-caused deaths in the U.S. are rare, but globally about 50,000 people die from it each year. He said up to 40,000 Americans undergo rabies vaccinations each year, which means they were exposed to the disease.

Ettestad called bats, skunks and foxes in New Mexico "reservoirs for rabies" that can transmit it to people, pets, livestock or other wild animals. He also urged making sure that family dog has up-to-date rabies shots.

"If they're unvaccinated," Ettestad said, "and they come across a dying bat with rabies on the ground and they themselves get bit, they can bring rabies back to the home and expose a whole lot of people to it."

He also encouraged parents to remind their children to never touch or approach any wild animals, living or dead.

Troy Wilde, Public News Service - NM