After JoCo bat tests positive for rabies, health department warns residents of danger

The Johnson County Health Department is advising residents to make sure their pets are vaccinated for rabies, after a rabid bat was found in the county.

The health department said the rabies case was confirmed through lab testing and reminded residents not to touch living or dead bats with bare hands to avoid exposure to the deadly virus.

“The bat population in JoCo is increasing as young bats begin to leave their nests and seek shelter in trees and homes,” department spokeswoman Barbara Mitchell said via email. “This is normal for this time of year.”

If pets or people do come into contact with a bat, residents are advised to call the nearest county animal control office or a professional pest control company to corral it, remove it and test it for rabies.

Rabies testing on an animal specimen can be scheduled by calling the health department’s environmental division at 913-715-6900.

Rabies is carried by mammals — usually wild animals like raccoons, bats, skunks and foxes — and spreads to humans when a carrier bites them. Non-bite exposures are rare, but not unheard of.

Initial symptoms are flu-like and without early treatment, the illness is almost always fatal. With immediate post-exposure vaccination shots, though, rabies can be prevented even after the bite. The usual course of vaccination is to give a shot on the day of exposure, and then again on days 3, 7 and 14.

About 100 animals test positive for rabies each year in Kansas, and Johnson County confirmed 28 animal cases between 1998 and 2014. But there hasn’t been a rabies death in the state since 1968, when a young boy was bitten by an infected dog in Cowley County.

When a Missouri man died of rabies after he was bitten by a bat in 2008, it was the first rabies-related death that state had seen since 1959. Missouri recorded another rabies-related death in 2014, from a variation of the virus that genetic testing also traced to bats.

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