Health officials urge caution after rabid bat found at elementary school

Health officials are reminding people to be careful around bats after one of the winged mammals was found at Keating Elementary School in Central Saanich, B.C., and tested positive for rabies.

Several people who had direct contact with the animal were given preventative vaccines against the virus. 

But Island Health says it's unlikely children at the school had contact with the animal.

"I think this is just a good reminder about the importance of staying hands off with bats in all circumstances," said Dee Hoyano, a medical health officer with the authority, on CBC's All Points West.

She says that while only five per cent of bats in B.C. carry rabies, anyone who comes into contact with one of the animals should contact their communicable disease program. 

Earlier this summer, a 21-year-old man died of a viral rabies infection after coming into contact with a bat on Vancouver Island.

"We recommend that nobody directly handle a bat," said Hoyano, who adds that people should be cautious when going near spaces where a bat may be hidden. 

Shutterstock

The incident at Keating Elementary has many parents concerned. They were notified by email yesterday about the rabid bat found on school grounds during the afterschool care program last week.  

"It's certainly worrisome," said Farrah Simpson, whose two children attend the school. "I think it's a good reminder for us parents to instill in their kids all sorts of dangers, when you think about wildlife as well."

Simpson, the co-president of the school's Parent's Advisory Council, says she feels a responsibility to educate her kids on the risks associated with bats because teachers aren't able to supervise every child at all times.

During an interview with All Points West host Robyn Burns, bat expert Mark Brigham explained that while there is some danger associated with bats, the likelihood of running into a rabid animal is small.

That's because one of the major symptoms of rabies is paralysis. 

"If it is healthy, it's probably going to fly when you scare it," said Brigham. "It doesn't want to be in the building where you found it, so opening a door or window or something like that and keeping your eye on it is a good thing."

With that comes his most important piece of advice for avoiding potentially dangerous bats: "If you find a bat on the ground or in a place where you can put your fingers near its face, don't. Simply don't."

Listen to Mark Brigham give context on the risks associated with bats: