Health officials track down woman who touched rabid bat

A poster posted around Como Park.
A flyer posted around Como Park earlier this week in the hopes of finding a woman who picked up a potentially diseased bat.
Courtesy of the Department of Health

Printed posters and social media helped state health officials get medical attention to a previously unknown woman who touched a rabid bat this week.

Minnesota Department of Health Public Health Veterinarian Dr. Joni Scheftel said the woman — who's not being identified — picked up the bat after it fell from a tree Wednesday evening near Como Lake in St. Paul.

Scheftel said the woman had been running near the lake and touched the animal when she saw another person trying to care for it.

The would-be rescuer did not touch the bat herself, but told staff at the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Roseville that someone else did.

After learning that the bat had tested positive for rabies, Scheftel said the health department put up posters Thursday around Como Lake in an effort to find the woman. She came forward Friday morning.

"Apparently a friend saw the poster, put it on their social media network and then she recognized that person as herself and called us," Scheftel said.

Bats have very small teeth, so bites can go unnoticed, Scheftel said, and had the woman become infected and gone untreated, she could have died.

Scheftel said rabies is nearly always fatal if it's not treated, but shots are highly effective as long as they're given before the onset of symptoms.

Thirty-five to 75 animals test positive for rabies annually in Minnesota; they're usually bats or skunks that are tested after coming into contact with domestic animals or humans.

Scheftel said there are typically five or fewer rabies deaths each year in the United States, not least because officials make every effort to prevent the virus from spreading from animals to humans.

"There's a lot of public health behind those small numbers," Scheftel said. "There are a lot of people working behind the scenes to prevent rabies in people."

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