Boy, 6, bitten by rabid bat

GRANTS PASS — Medical intervention has begun to prevent a Josephine County boy bitten by a rabid bat from developing the potentially fatal viral disease.

The 6-year-old found the bat, a long-eared myotis, in the yard of his home on Rogue River Highway several miles outside Grants Pass on Monday.

"We really want to remind adults and have them teach kids not to touch bats," said Catherine Metz, a nurse with Josephine County Public Health.

Laboratory tests confirmed late Wednesday that the bat had rabies, Metz said. The child has started a series of seven shots to protect him from the disease that affects the central nervous system of mammals and is almost always fatal if symptoms appear.

The state Department of Human Services reports that six Oregon bats have tested positive for rabies this year, but the infected bats are usually isolated cases. A rabid bat was found in Jackson County in July, but it hadn't bitten anyone. The bat found this week was the first infected bat found this year in Josephine County, authorities said. Klamath County reported a rabid bat in August.

State epidemiologist Ning An said a group of children found a rabid bat in Benton County in July and were playing with it, necessitating the series of shots for the whole group.

"It's important children know not to play with bats," she said. "People in rural areas should be aware and everyone should be careful."

While bats play an important role in the ecosystem by controlling insects and helping agriculture, any bat that is acting abnormal should be avoided, Metz said. Abnormal behavior includes daylight activity, being found on the ground or coming into homes.

Anyone who is bitten or has other contact with a bat should wash the area thoroughly and seek medical attention. If possible, the bat should be captured, using a blanket or heavy gloves, so it can be tested. Bats found dead can be double-bagged and disposed of in the trash, public health officials said.

If tests determine an animal that bit doesn't have rabies, the series of shots can be avoided.

Laboratory testing after a bite is especially important right now because of a nationwide shortage of rabies vaccine for humans, An said.

A rabies vaccine factory in France is being renovated to meet current standards, and the only other U.S. supplier has run low on supplies of its vaccine, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported. The two manufacturers and U.S. public health officials are coordinating closely to make sure everyone exposed to rabies gets the life-saving vaccination.

Vaccinating pets is another important step in stopping rabies, officials said.

Jackson County Animal Care and Control will offer a reduced-cost rabies vaccination clinic from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday at the animal shelter, 5595 S. Pacific Highway, Phoenix. Shots cost just $10. For more information, call 774-6654.

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