NORMAL — The first rabid bat in McLean County this year was discovered this week in a home in Normal, prompting the McLean County Health Department to remind people of the risks associated with rabies and how to handle a bat in the home.

The best way to handle a bat is “enclose it,” said Kera Simon, the department’s communications specialist. If it is in a bathroom or a garage, close the door and immediately call the county’s animal control division, she said.

She also advises people not to risk contact in trying to contain a bat, and let animal control handle it.

The number for Macon County Animal Control and Care Center is 425-4508.

There was only one incidence of rabies in Macon County during 2011. According to the Illinois Department of Public Health and Illinois Department of Agriculture, a bull pastured in eastern Macon County developed signs of rabies in January.

“We are approaching the time of year that bats are most active,” said Walt Howe, director of the McLean County Health Department. “Vaccinating pets against rabies is a crucial step in preventing rabies transmission to humans.”

Wild animals, especially bats, raccoons and skunks, can carry rabies. Rabid bats are not uncommon in Central Illinois. So far this year, 19 bats have tested positive for rabies in Illinois. There haven’t been any human cases in Illinois since 1995.

The symptoms of animals with rabies are loss of appetite, strange behavior, disorientation and excessive drooling. Bats flying at night pose little risk, but bats active during the daytime, seen flopping around on the ground or in a place where bats are not usually seen such as a house, should be avoided.

In humans, symptoms are general weakness, fever and headaches initially but progress to anxiety, confusion, and delirium as the virus attacks the central nervous system, Simon said.

According to the University of Illinois Extension website, bats that have entered a home or building and not bitten anyone should be allowed to exit. Be sure to keep kids and pets at a safe distance. Don’t try to catch a bat or knock it out of the air. Instead, confine it to a room with a door or window open to the outside and leave it, allowing it time to make its exit.

Adult bats seen out during the daytime or found on the ground are likely sick or injured. They may be aggressive, so don’t attempt to pick them up or handle them.

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