Children Find Rabid Bat in Basement of Home As CDC Warns of Rise in Rabies Cases

A Pennsylvania woman has revealed that her children found a bat in their home that turned out to have rabies.

Bonnie Wilson, who lives in the city of Sharon, told CBS-affiliate WKBN that the children came across the bat in the basement.

Wilson said the bat was moving in a sluggish manner and acting strangely, so she placed it in a bucket—without touching it directly—and put it outside.

She then placed the bat in a container and contacted the game warden. The official later tested the animal, finding that it was positive for rabies.

The news comes after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a statement warning about an increase in human rabies cases linked to bats.

In the statement published on January 6, 2022, the CDC said it was "raising awareness" of the risks of rabies from bats after three people in the U.S., including a child, died from the disease between late September and early November 2021.

In total, there were five rabies deaths in the country in 2021—after zero deaths over the course of 2019 and 2020.

Rabies is a serious viral disease that affects the brain and spinal cord of mammals. The virus is usually transmitted to humans via the bite of an infected animal.

Exposure to infected bats is the leading cause of human rabies deaths in the U.S., accounting for around 70 percent of fatalities, CDC figures show.

Rabies is preventable with prompt treatment after exposure, but once symptoms appear, the disease is almost always fatal in humans.

Human rabies cases are extremely rare in the United States, with one to three cases reported every year on average, according to the CDC.

In 2021, however, three people—one each in Idaho, Illinois and Texas—died from the disease over a five-week period following direct contact with bats in or around their homes.

Two of the cases were considered "avoidable exposures," the CDC said. In one case, the patient picked up the bat with bare hands. Two of the three individuals released the bat rather than capturing it for testing.

In addition, none of the three received post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP)—shots that can prevent rabies from developing if administered before the onset of symptoms.

"We have come a long way in the United States towards reducing the number of people who become infected each year with rabies, but this recent spate of cases is a sobering reminder that contact with bats poses a real health risk," said Ryan Wallace, a veterinarian and rabies expert in the CDC's Division of High-Consequence Pathogens and Pathology.

According to data from the National Rabies Surveillance System, the number of rabid bats reported has been stable since 2007. This suggests that the uptick in human rabies cases may be down to a lack of awareness about the risks of the illness and the importance of PEP treatment, the CDC said.

As a result, the CDC is urging people to avoid direct contact with bats. Anyone who has been in direct contact with a bat—or thinks they have been—should call their state or local health department, or animal control, to help trap the bat for testing. Alternatively, the individual should safely trap the animal themselves.

The person should also contact a doctor or local public health official to assess whether they need to receive PEP.

"These steps are important even if contact with a bat takes place through clothing and bite or scratch marks are not visible," the CDC said. "Sometimes it is not clear whether someone may have had contact with a bat, such as when a bat is found in a room with someone who is sleeping or where a child has been left unattended."

Bat bites do not always cause a visible mark but the rabies is still capable of spreading through infected saliva in some cases—such as when the skin is broken.

The CDC says it typically takes between three weeks and three months for rabies symptoms to develop. PEP is nearly 100 percent effective at preventing the disease, however, if it is administered before this happens.

The agency estimates that more than 60,000 people receive PEP every year in the U.S. to prevent the development of the disease.

Commenting on the bat found by Bonnie Wilson's children, Roger Coup, wildlife manager for the Pennsylvania Game Commission's northwest region, said there were two types of rabid animal to look out for.

The first is an animal that is displaying aggressive symptoms, he told WKBN. The second is an animal that is not moving, acting disoriented or is potentially salivating.

A bat
Stock image showing a bat. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is raising awareness about a recent increase in human rabies cases linked to bats. iStock