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DHS news release

May 1, 2008

General contact: Bonnie Widerburg, 971-673-1282
Program contact: Emilio DeBess, D.V.M., 971-673-1111
Gary Oxman, M.D., Multnomah County Health Department, 503-988-3663 ext. 22640

Rabies-infected bat found in Multnomah County

The Oregon State Public Health Laboratory has confirmed that a bat in Multnomah County was infected with rabies. The bat was found by a resident in an inner southeast Portland home in the early morning hours.

The report is prompting public health officials to remind people to avoid bats and to vaccinate their pets against rabies, particularly cats.

"People can do three things to protect themselves and their pets from rabies," said Emilio DeBess, D.V.M., public health veterinarian in the Oregon Department of Human Services. "Use screens in your windows, never handle bats, and make sure your cats and dogs are up to date on their rabies vaccines."

Rabies is a viral disease that affects the nervous system after exposure to a rabid animal. Exposure is usually through a bite but can also occur through scratches and saliva contact with broken skin. It is almost always fatal once symptoms begin.

Bats play an important role in the ecosystem, especially in controlling insects and aiding agriculture, DeBess said, but a small percentage can carry rabies.

"Bats are normally night-time creatures," said DeBess. "They pose little danger to people who do not handle them. But if you find a bat during daylight hours, it is most likely unhealthy and should be avoided."

DeBess also advised that vaccinating pets against rabies protects them and provides a buffer zone between humans and rabid wild animals. "Sadly, if an unvaccinated pet is exposed to rabies, the recommendation is that it be euthanized," he said.

Nationally, twice as many cats as dogs are reported to have rabies each year, underscoring the need for better vaccination of cats, according to DeBess.

DeBess noted that human rabies is rare in the United States, numbering two to six cases a year. However, because animal bites are very common, thousands of people annually receive painful, expensive and unnecessary treatment for rabies, which underscores the importance of education and prevention.