Health officials with the County of San Diego have reported that a bat found at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park has tested positive for rabies. The bat was found alive on Saturday, April 15 at approximately 3 p.m. near the Oasis Deli in Nairobi Village.  Trained park staff collected the bat, which was not one of the park’s collection animals and delivered it to the County where it tested positive Monday for rabies.

Brown Bat
Myotis lucifugus, or Little Brown Bat/CDC

So far, no human or animal contact has been reported. However, County health officials would like to know if anyone who was in the park on April 15 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. directly handled the rabid bat.  If you or someone in your family or group had contact with the bat, you are urged to contact the County Health officials as soon as possible at (619) 692-8499.  If you did not have direct contact with the bat, such as touching or holding the animal, you are not at risk for rabies.

“Although the bat was found in an area where many park visitors pass by, there has been no reported human or animal contact with it,” said Wilma Wooten, M.D., M.P.H., County public health officer. “We want to be sure that no one had contact with the bat because human rabies is usually fatal without prompt post-exposure vaccine and treatment.”

There have been five rabid bats found in San Diego County so far this year.

Rabies is an acute viral infection that is transmitted to humans or other mammals usually through the saliva from a bite of an infected animal. It is also rarely contracted through breaks in the skin or contact with mucous membranes.

According to the Control of Communicable Diseases Manual, all mammals are susceptible to rabies. Raccoons, skunks, foxes, bats, dogs, coyotes and cats are the likely suspects. Other animals like otters and ferrets are also high risk. Mammals like rabbits, squirrels, rodents and opossums are rarely infected.

Rabies infected animals can appear very aggressive, attacking for no reason. Some may act very tame. They may look like they are foaming at the mouth or drooling because they cannot swallow their saliva. Sometimes the animal may stagger (this can also be seen in distemper). Not long after this point they will die. Most animals can transmit rabies days before showing symptoms.

LISTEN: Rabies: A comprehensive interview with Pamela Wilson

Initially, like in many diseases, the symptoms of rabies are non-specific; fever, headache and malaise. This may last several days. At the site of the bite, there may be some pain and discomfort. Symptoms then progress to more severe: confusion, delirium, abnormal behavior and hallucinations. If it gets this far, the disease is nearly 100% fatal.

Worldwide it is estimated that there are more than 69,000 deaths due to rabies annually.

Human rabies is prevented by administration of rabies vaccine and rabies immune globulin.