Health officials issue warning after rabid bat found

LITTLE ROCK — Confirmation that a bat found in North Little Rock tested positive for rabies prompted the state Health Department on Wednesday to issue a warning for people to avoid bats and other wild animals due to the potential for infection.

A bat found this week near the Old Mill park in North Little Rock brought to 32 the number of rabid animals — 29 skunks, two bats and one bull — found in the state so far this year.

In 2011, 60 rabid animals — 53 skunks, six bats and one cat — were reported in Arkansas.

The person who found the infected bat in North Little Rock was not bitten but was given the rabies vaccine as a precaution, North Little Rock Animal Control reported.

Despite the unusually high number of rabid animals found so early in the year, Health Department spokesman Ed Barham said there is no reason to believe there is a rabies outbreak in the state.

“Over the last 10 years or so we’ve averaged one or two bats (with rabies) every year in Pulaski County,” Barham said. “That’s not uncommon, and the other reports that we are seeing we hope are indication of increased awareness of the problem & The more people notice, the more people are reporting and watching out.”

People should report all animal bites or contact with a wild animal to their local health unit and contain the animal if possible, the department said.

Depending on the species, an animal can be observed or tested for rabies in order to avoid the need for rabies treatment.

Rabies, a virus that attacks the brain and spinal cord, is most often found in skunks, bats and foxes. Cats, dogs and livestock also can develop rabies, especially if not vaccinated.

The virus, which lives in the saliva and nervous tissues of infected animals, is spread when the animal bites or scratches. The virus also may be spread if saliva from an infected animal touches broken skin, open wounds or the lining of the mouth, eyes or nose.

Anyone who thinks he or she may have been exposed to the virus should wash the wound thoroughly with soap and water and seek immediate attention, according to the Health Department.

All dogs and cats in Arkansas are required to be vaccinated against rabies by a licensed veterinarian.