FWC Member Rebecca Fyffe, Managing Director, Chicago Wildlife Management and Consulting

27 Jul 2015 12:22 PM | Beth Doria (Administrator)

In March, East Dundee Police, joined dozens of other departments over a six county area in receiving training based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's advice on bats delivered by urban wildlife manager Rebecca Fyffe. The program was made available through the Wildlife Control Policy Institute, a nonprofit scientific organization and coincided with Rabies Awareness Month. With knowledge gained from the training, officers are ready for this year’s peak bat season, which begins in June and lasts until September.

The nonprofit’s policy recommendation states “Since bats' teeth are very small, a sleeping person may not know he or she has been bitten, so merely awakening to find a bat in the room constitutes an exposure and the bat must be contained and submitted for rabies testing. A bat that has been in a room with a sleeping person must not be allowed to escape through an open window.”
East Dundee Police Chief Terry Mee said the information availed to his department during the presentation will help keep East Dundee’s citizens and officers safer.
“Previous to that, I had not had that kind of perspective,” Mee said. “We would have probably simply tried to catch the bat and release it rather than try to capture it and make sure that somebody had not been bitten. It certainly changed my perception of these types of calls.”
 
Mee stressed the importance of giving village residents the right advice.
 
“If the residents call us and are provided with science-based information, it is not only fortunate, but it could be life-saving,” he said.
 
Knowing that rabies is 100 percent preventable with timely intervention, Mee said he absolutely feels an obligation that his police staff direct people correctly.
 
While educating departments about bats, the Wildlife Control Policy Institute avoids inciting fear by stressing that rabies is preventable and merely seeing a bat does not pose a rabies threat, since the disease is transmitted only through the infected animal’s wet, fresh saliva or brain tissue.
 
All bats are protected in Illinois, however, not all bats are endangered.  There are four species of bats on Illinois’ Endangered Species List, but the Little Brown Bat, the species most commonly found in attics and homes, is not one of them. Quite the opposite, the Little Brown Bat is considered abundant in our state.
 
Finding a single bat does not automatically mean there is a colony in the home’s attic or walls, but it is important to rule it out.  If a single bat is found, a thorough inspection by a bat exclusion contractor should be scheduled to examine the building for any evidence of a roost.  When a roost is found, if the bats have stayed in the walls and never come into the human-occupied spaces of the building, they can generally be safely excluded by installing a one-way valve allowing them to leave but not re-enter.
 
Bats are an important part of the environment and eat many harmful insects.  Bat conservation efforts, such as putting up bat houses and preserving bat habitats, do not pose risk to humans and should be encouraged. 
 
Bats themselves are not dangerous.  Although rabies is considered 100 percent fatal once symptoms develop, it is also 100 percent preventable.  The key to prevention is knowing what constitutes an exposure and seeking appropriate treatment.
 
Since bats’ teeth are very small, especially if they were asleep at the time, people don’t always know they were exposed.  This is why anyone who awakens to find a bat in the bedroom must have the bat captured and tested.  Most of the people who died of bat-related rabies after waking with a bat in the bedroom did not realize they were bitten.
 
Research by the nonprofit, Wildlife Control Policy Institute indicates that people who awake to find a bat in the bedroom don’t always get the appropriate advice when they call emergency first-responders.  2004 data collected by the organization demonstrates that 80 percent of police dispatchers surveyed gave incorrect information when, in a hypothetical scenario, they were asked what to tell a caller who awoke to find a bat in the bedroom but showed no marking or evidence of a bite.  The majority of first-responders advised releasing or killing the bat, with only 20 percent appropriately recommending capturing the bat for testing.
 
Following years of training police departments, a program that has been underway since 2002, the quality of information available to those who call departments for bat advice has improved. 
 
The Wildlife Control Policy Institute conducts outreach to teach first-responders to better field calls pertaining to bats and other wildlife that pose a disease risk to humans. The course they offer is based on the most up-to-date research, including the Centers for Disease Control’s protocol on dealing with bats, which includes capturing and testing all bats found in rooms with sleeping people.  Course materials and information on rabies can be found at http://www.cdc.gov/rabies/bats/index.html.
 
Requests for training can be sent to info@wildlifepolicy.org.
 
Licensed bat capture specialists and exclusion contractors can be found on the Living With Wildlfie Project website— a collaborative effort between the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) and University of Illinois Extension Center http://m.extension.illinois.edu/wildlife/professionals.cfm.

View photos here.

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