Three bats test positive for rabies in SLO County

Three bats have tested positive for rabies since June in San Luis Obispo County, a number that is higher than usual, according to the SLO County Public Health Department.

Two of the bats were found in Atascadero, while the other was located in Cambria. All three bats were picked up by health officials and taken to a lab for testing after residents reported spotting a sick or dead bat to either County Animal Services or Pacific Wildlife Care.

It is not unusual for bats to carry rabies, a public health department press release states. However, in most years, SLO County’s Public Health Laboratory records one or no confirmed cases of rabies in bats.

The most common way for people in the United States to get rabies is through contact with a bat, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. County officials are warning residents to avoid touching or trying to capture bats.

Most local cases of bats biting people have occurred when individuals attempted to capture or rescue a bat they thought was injured or sick. Bats typically do not bite humans, but may do so if people try to handle or capture them, or when the mammals become trapped in a house or building.

“These are not cases of bats as aggressors,” said Public Health Officer Dr. Penny Borenstein. “Rather, these are cases of people initiating contact with bats. Given these recent rabies tests, we want to remind everyone to use general caution and avoid contact with bats. If you find a bat that appears lethargic or sick, don’t touch it or attempt to rescue it: that puts you at risk for rabies, and it doesn’t help the bat.”

Public health officials instruct individuals who find a bat that appears to be injured, sick or dead to call SLO County Animal Services at (805) 781-4400, so the bat can be tested for rabies. Anyone who is bitten by a bat is instructed to do the same.