John Pape, Colorado State Health Department Epidemiologist, who specializes in animal-related diseases, explains that bats are an important part of the ecosystem because they eat mosquitoes and other insects and pollinate plants. "Bats should not be killed indiscriminately or because of a fear of rabies," Pape said. During migration time, finding a bat hanging under the eave of a house, under a porch over-hang, hidden behind shutters or gutters or in a tree is normal. Just leave bats alone and usually they will leave on their own. Experience and studies have proven that killing bats or destroying their roosting sites won't eliminate rabies or reduce its occurrence in bat populations. Therefore, the best way to prevent being exposed to rabies is to take a few simple steps.
- Do not pick up or handle bats—or any wildlife for that matter. The most common ways people have been exposed to rabid bats are by picking one off the ground, trying to remove a bat from the house, taking a bat from a family pet and having a bat land on them. People also have awakened to find a bat in their bedroom or house, and when that happens, it can be difficult to determine if an exposure has occurred.
Warn children to never handle an unfamiliar animal. If a bat or wild animal lets you approach or handle it, there's something wrong with the animal. In defense, most animals will bite.
- Keep pets currently vaccinated against rabies. Immunization has proved successful in controlling rabies in domestic dogs and cats. The last rabid dog was reported from El Paso County in 1974, the last domestic cat from Grand County in 1985. Wildlife obviously isn't vaccinated for rabies, although experimental oral rabies vaccines are being tested for species such as raccoons and skunks. As for bats, there is no effective way to control or prevent rabies in their populations.
Keeping your pets vaccinated protects them from exposures to rabies, including exposures you may not be aware of, such as a cat catching and eating a bat. If exposed to rabies, an unvaccinated pet must be quarantined, which can be expensive.