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Public health officials are urging residents to evade touching any wild animals, especially bats.

The warning comes after the discovery of a strangely high number of rabid bats in Los Angeles County so far this year.

So far in 2010, 21 rabid bats have been found countywide, compared to an average of 10 per year, according to the Department of Public Health.

The reason for the raise is unclear, but health officials say the threat is real.

Make certain that children know to leave bats and other wildlife alone, and keep pets away from wild animals. If you see a sick bat or other sick creature, contact your local animal control agency," said Jonathan E. Fielding, MD, MPH, Director of Public Health and Health Officer.

One person who was attempting to rehabilitate a sick bat was bitten. The bat tested positive for rabies and the person was quickly treated for rabies exposure. Rabies is a grave viral disease that affects the central nervous system, ultimately causing brain disease and death. Symptoms may comprise fever, weakness, confusion, anxiety, partial paralysis and an increase in saliva.

Rabies is transmitted through the bite or saliva of a polluted animal. The majority of rabies cases reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) each year occur in wild animals such as bats, raccoons, skunks, and foxes. And it’s not just people who are at danger from infection.

So far this year, two dogs and a cat were found playing with live, rabid bats at their homes. Fortunately, the pets had existing rabies vaccinations. If not, their owners would have had to face the difficult decision of either euthanizing their pet or putting them in quarantine for six months. All pet owners should make sure their dog or cat has an up-to-date vaccine against rabies, said Dr. Fielding.

1 in 1000 to 1 in 10,000 bats is infected with rabies. However when an ill bat is found, the risk of that bat having rabies is much higher; approximately 10 percent.
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