Bats and Skunks Trigger Rabies Alerts in North Texas

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Rabid bats and skunks found in two highly populated North Texas counties triggered health alerts this week.

In Denton County, Lewisville Animal Services continue to search for five youngsters seen playing with a rabid bat in a recreational Lake Park last Saturday, WFAA 8 (ABC) reported. On Wednesday, officials in the Dallas area community diagnosed the winged critter as infected, raising concerns over the whereabouts of these unknown children who may need medical treatment.

Notices went up on Thursday in the Lake Park area and in neighboring communities. KDFW 4 (FOX) reported a second bat in a Lewisville currently undergoing testing for rabies contamination found close to the park where the first rabid bat surfaced.

People should not touch bats and those who do, should seek medical attention, according to City of Lewisville officials. “If there was direct exposure it is very urgent,” warned Ethel Strother with Lewisville Animal Control Services. She suspected the children playing with the rabid bat may not have touched it but prodded it with a stick.

Rabies, caused by a virus that attacks the central nervous system in mammals, is contagious. Almost always, it is transmitted through the bite of an infected animal. Treatment consists of a series of vaccines within a mandatory 10-day quarantine period. Strother told the local TV news: “You have to start the shots series within that 10-day window. Once you break out with symptoms it’s like the point of no return.”

That “point of no return” can look like flu-like symptoms one-to-three months after infection. The rabies virus progresses into delirium, abnormal behavior, hallucinations, and insomnia. Children often experience lethargy, fever, headache, and sore throat. Pain and tingling at the place where bitten, hallucinations, tightening of the throat muscles resulting in a fear of drinking water, and full or partial paralysis later can occur. Left untreated, rabies is nearly always fatal.

People cannot transmit rabies to other people unless they are sick with the virus, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). These shots protect a person from developing rabies and prevents transmission to other people.

Lewisville officials do not anticipate a widespread rabies outbreak, still, they cautioned “it is extremely important that anyone exposed be identified and examined right away.”

A first line of defense against human infection often starts with inoculating pets against rabies which is required by law. Approximately, 20 miles south of Lewisville, in Hurst, police confirmed a dead skunk tested positive for rabies. They issued a health alert on Thursday for the Tarrant County city. Although nocturnal, suburban skunks can be out during the day. A rabid skunk may exhibit crusty eyes and noses, disorientation, staggering, excessive drooling or aggressive behavior.

Hurst Animal Services advised pet owners to keep a watchful eye on animals when outdoors. They added that residents should avoid contact with wild animals, not touch sick or injured animals, and report such incidents to local Animal Control.

Ninety percent of modern rabies cases occur in wildlife and the principal hosts of the potentially fatal disease are wild carnivores and bats. In the United States, early diagnosis and proper medical treatment is nearly 100 percent successful. Because vaccines to prevent human rabies have been available for more than 100 years, most deaths from rabies occur in countries with inadequate public health resources and limited access to preventive treatment.

In Texas, skunks cause the majority of the rabid animal cases, followed by bats. In 2006, a Harris County teenager died after contracting rabies from a bat. The Houston Chronicle reported that human rabies cases in the U.S. average only about two per year while about 500 pets contract the disease annually.

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