Friday, September 2, 2016

Bats - Friend or Foe?

After moving to a new home in rural Thurston County, I noticed several bats roosting above my porch! At first, I was alarmed. Should I call a pest management company? What should I do if a bat enters my home? Aren’t bats dangerous? However, after researching bats, I have learned that they are incredibly beneficial to humans and the advantages of having them around outweigh any problems that you might have with them. Learn more about bats and how you can coexist with such unique creatures by following the tips below.
 Bats: Insect eating machines
            Bats are incredibly valuable animals. They keep your neighborhood ecosystem in balance by feeding on flying insects, like mosquitoes! In fact, a female brown bat can consume her body weight in insects each night during the summer. How do bats locate flying insects so quickly? They use echolocation, which is the process of bats producing high-pitched sound waves that bounce back to the bat when the sound waves reach a flying insect. Bats will then capture insects by scooping them into their tail or wing, and then put the insect into their mouth. You can thank bats for keeping flying insect populations in check.
Keeping your loved ones safe
            While bats keep insects at bay, some bats in the wild carry rabies, a fatal viral disease that affects the central nervous system. Mammals (that includes you, your pet, livestock and wild animals) can be infected by rabies if bitten by a rabid bat, which can spread to others through the transmission of saliva. The most common way the rabies virus is transmitted is through the bite and virus-containing saliva of an infected host.   Human rabies is rare in the United States. Since 1990, the number of reported cases in the US has been one to seven annually. In the past twenty years, there have only been two reported human deaths from rabies in the state of Washington and they were both infected by bats. However, less than 1% of bats in the wild have rabies.
To minimize the risk of rabies exposure, do not handle any wild animals. If a wild animal does bite you, clean the site of the bite with soap and water. Contact your health care provider and Thurston County Public Health (or your local health department if you live outside of the county) to determine the potential for rabies exposure, the need for treatment and to decide whether or not to test the animal for rabies. You can reduce the risk of rabies exposure for children and pets too. Teach your children to never touch or handle wild animals, including dead animals. You can protect your pets by having them routinely vaccinated, which is now required in the state of Washington.
Follow these steps if you ever find a bat inside your home:
  • Do not touch the bat.
  • If children or pets are in the same room as the bat, move them into a different room away from the bat.
  • Close the doors and windows and wait for the bat to land on the floor or a wall. 
  • Be sure to wear leather or thick gloves and capture the bat in a box without touching it. 
  • Seal the box or container and call Thurston County Public Health (or your local health department) to determine if any people or pets have been exposed and arrange to test the bat for rabies, if needed.

Bat-proof your home
There are many common entry points used by bats to enter a home. The safest way to reduce exposure to bats is to exclude them from your home. If you have an older home, there may be more points of entry for a bat to enter. There are several methods of safely excluding bats, but if there are large numbers of bats roosting in an attic or another area, it is safer for you to hire a professional to do the work. Never trap flightless bats inside a structure. It is cruel to trap the bats inside and can create a serious odor problem.                                            
Bats need our help
Bat populations across North America are in danger. White-nose syndrome, a disease caused by the fungus Pseudogymnoascus, has killed over six million bats since 2006. This disease was contained to eastern North America for several years, but the first case of white-nose syndrome was confirmed in North Bend, Washington in March 2016. While humans cannot catch white-nose syndrome, it is deadly to bats that catch it. There are several ways we can help reduce the spread of white-nose syndrome so our local bat populations do not suffer. 
By educating yourself on bats and keeping children and pets away from bats, along with bat-proofing your home, bats and humans can coexist. If you would like to learn more about reducing human exposure to bats, bat-proofing your home and white-nose syndrome, please read the resources below.

Living with wildlife - bats:

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