It's All About the Bats - Or Is It?
Utah public health officials have warned the public to avoid exposure to rabies by steering clear of these night-flying mammals, saying that 10 percent of the 70 bats they’ve tested – tested positive for the virus.
Terri Pope, a state conservation biologist, told KPCW that the data from the health officials only uses a small sample – and that isn’t accurate.
“Less than one percent of all bats actually carry rabies so it’s not prevalent in the population," Pope said. "They’re only testing ones that are found dead or sick so the majority of the healthy bats are not the ones being tested.
Rabies are found in most mammals including skunks and raccoons which is why, Pope said, pets need to be vaccinated.
But according to Pope, batsseem to get the short end of the stick.
“They can be very beneficial – they eat a lot, a lot of insects," Pope said. "Especially ones that are forest pests and agricultural pests so they really help in those industries and help to protect the forests. And they also eat some of the insects that are disease infectors like the mosquitos with the West Nile.”
The Swaner EcoCenter hosted a “Meet Utah’s Bats” at the same time the warning was released. Brittany Ingalls is the conservation coordinator at the Swaner Preserve.
“Bat’s are fairly misunderstood as a species of mammal," Ingalls said. "They get the most press as being vectors for disease so it’s important for us to highlight in our adult education programs the benefits of all types of wildlife."
Pope estimated that out of the 18 species of bats in Utah, there are 14 to 15 species in Summit County but can’t say for sure as they’re still in the process of discovering all of the local species.
She does have one warning though.
“If the bat is acting sick – if it’s out – you know – really obvious in the day or if it’s on the ground and not flying – those are signs that it’s sick," Pope said. "It might not necessarily be rabies but you definitely don’t want to touch bats that are acting strange like that.”
A 2014 study shows raccoons as the number one carrier of rabies followed by bats, then skunks and lastly, foxes.