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Did a bat land on you at the Kelso Depot in the Mojave Desert?

Boosting signal on this, because it’s potentially very urgent and the person at risk could be anywhere in the world at this point.

A week ago, on April 30, a visitor to the Kelso Depot in the Mojave National Preserve had a bat land on his neck. The bat — a Myotis lucifugus a.k.a. little brown bat — has since tested positive for rabies, and now San Bernardino County officials are trying to find the man. They don’t know if he was bitten or scratched: it wouldn’t take much of a bite to transmit the disease, and if that happened he’s got to get vaxxed.

Details on the incident and public health contact info are here. The guy doesn’t have a lot of slack before getting to the doctor at this point: onset of symptoms can start mere days after a bite. (Or years, which has caused people to falsely assume they’ve dodged a bullet.) Before symptoms start prevention is straightforward and no longer arduous. I’ve had rabies shots and they weren’t the worst injections I had that year. (Individual mileage varies there, but they’re way better than they were back in the day. Mine were a breeze.)

And it’s a good opportunity to remind people in bat and rabies country that while transmission of rabies from bats to humans is quite rare, bats exhibiting unusual behavior (like not being shy or nocturnal) should be given a wide berth and reported to local authorities.

Comments

  1. John Morales says

    Ooh, it’s bad! If he were an atheist, he might become a rabid atheist.

    Too early to joke about this?

    OK. First, those are insectivorous bats, and so hardly likely to bite a person unless provoked.

    (Was it provoked?)

    Second, to get rabies via a scratch that scratch must come into contact with bodily fluid of the carrier (I believe saliva suffices).

    (So, if he was scratched and licked (or drooled upon), then there may be cause to worry)

  2. Mattir, Another One With Boltcutters says

    The DaughterSpawn had to have rabies shots after a drooled-upon encounter with a very-likely-rabid raccoon – the injections (except for the immunoglobulin, which was bad bad) were on par with a tetanus/pertussis booster and way better than measles or typhoid fever. Rabies is 100% preventable and 100% fatal, so the fact that FIFTY THOUSAND people die of it each year is horrifying.

  3. says

    John, my understanding is that it was a sick bat that fell on the guy’s neck. There are lots of architectural features at the Depot that are good bat roosts — soffits and such — and apparently this guy was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

    Part of the reason the San Bernardino County public health folks want to talk to him is to determine whether he was bitten (or scratched and licked.)

    And no, probably not too early to joke: when I was heading in for my first round of rabies shots back in ought-four I made that stupid joke about writing a list of people to bite about eight times.

  4. mythbri says

    We have Myotis lucifugus where I live, too – I love to see them swoop around the street lamps at night, eating the insects that congregate there. A few years ago in October, no less, one of those little Myotis bats became trapped in a bookstore I happened to be in. The poor thing was flying around and around until he found the doors that the employees had propped open. Several people had screamed and left the store by that point.

  5. John Morales says

    Chris,

    Part of the reason the San Bernardino County public health folks want to talk to him is to determine whether he was bitten (or scratched and licked.)

    Kudos for the attitude of the San Bernardino County public health folks, BTW.

    In TVland, the passenger would have been identified within an hour (including the obligatory advertising interruptions).

  6. robro says

    Is there a test to determine if you’re infected?

    Some years ago, my wife and I bought a cabin in the Gold Country. It had been vacant for decades and had no windows, so there were three colonies of bats living in old fireplace flus. My wife loved the bats and thought they were cute (she’s a sucker for small fury critters). She found it very exciting to be in the cabin when they came out in the evening, and they were great for the misquotes.

    They weren’t house broken, so we had to evict them eventually. However, she insisted on keeping the cabin open that first summer until they weened their pups. She slept in the cabin with the bats many times during that summer, and my son and I did once or twice as well.

    I was concerned about rabies, but she was convinced that bats posed no risk and I couldn’t persuade her otherwise. In fact, I recall reading the story of Jeanna Giese who survived an infection from a bat around that time (2005) because of a radical treatment protocol. Fortunately, the bats seemed healthy.

  7. says

    Had a patient couple weeks ago who was bitten by a monkey in Thailand, and they have a high prevalence of rabies. The good thing is that the incubation period is anywhere from 3 weeks to 3 months, so there’s time for a full vaccination on top of a dose of immunoglobulin. The shots are day 0,3,7,14 and 21 or something like that, might vary between countries.

  8. otrame says

    Robro

    You can potentially get rabies from any mammal. Bats have a fairly high rate of infection with the virus and because they are so small and because we seldom get to see them up close, people are less careful about bats who are acting strangely than they should be.

    Let’s put it this way. I think bats are incredibly cool, but I would not have slept in an enclosed space with a colony if I could possibly help it because the risks of transmission are small but the results of transmission are very very bad.

    Besides, the risk of histoplasmosis in the situation you described would make me sleep someplace else.

  9. anuran says

    When my wife did a field season in Costa Rica she helped mist net bats. The Institute she was working with made her get a rabies vaccine in advance.

  10. robro says

    otrame — Thanks for the info. I wasn’t crazy about sleeping with bats, and I think I only did it once. Trying to convince my wife otherwise was, well, a long story fraught with the usual intra-spousal difficulties. We won’t got there.

    I’m not sure exactly what histoplasmosis is, but according to the dictionary it’s “infection by a fungus found in the droppings of birds and bats in humid areas” and the California Gold Country is anything but humid, tho I suppose it may be humid enough. Still, no one developed any lung infections.

    There was plenty of bat droppings…great for plants. She gather several pounds of bat guano and gave it to a friend for her garden.

    That doesn’t answer the question about testing for rabies infection.

  11. Tyrant al-Kalām says

    Have you heard about this new experimental treatment for acute rabies where people are essentially put in a coma? I think it was pioneered in Johns Hopkins, but I haven’t heard about it for a while…

  12. carlie says

    Had a very frustrating experience a couple of years ago – there was a bat flying around in my office building in the middle of the day (thankfully on a day not many people were there). A couple of us finally corralled it into my office, whereupon it simply collapsed on the floor. We covered it with a box and called animal control, who… told us to take it outside and let it go. We expressed our concern regarding possible rabies (we’d had several cases of rabies in foxes within a 15 mile radius), and they said that they would not do anything with the animal unless it had bitten someone. But what if it did later? But what if it spread it to other animals who then bit people or pets? Nope, didn’t matter. Since it hadn’t already bitten someone, they weren’t going to do a thing about it. I assume at least part of the problem was underfunding of the office to the point that they had to focus only on crisis cases, but sheesh.

  13. carlie says

    Damn, I thought that was going to be a historical account of how vampires were used as cautionary tales of unrepressed feelings in a more strict society, but instead it was crappy erotica with poor spelling and grammar. I wish spam would be good once in awhile.

  14. Nerdette says

    Ah, bats and rabies. Last summer, one of our NSF Research Experience Undergraduates (REUs) had a fun little encounter with a bat. It was the night before the research symposium, we were all up late practicing our talks and printing posters. The research symposium was also going to be a dedication of our new lab building, with all school officials and a completely clueless politician coming to speak. The power went out in the middle of the night as the REUs were printing out their posters, so they found other entertainment. This included discovered a bat caught in the screened-in porch, and catching it. It was adorable enough, so the bat-catcher posed for a couple of pictures, endured the bat’s biting, and released it. The directer of the facility walked in to check to make sure everyone was alright, and they told him about the bat. His immediate reaction was, “She what?!”, gathered up the hapless REU, and drove her to the emergency room, where they waited for three hours to get her rabies treatment. Both the director and the REU then navigated the lab dedication and research symposium on zero hours of sleep.

    @ #14 carlie

    Raccoons are the most prevalant carries in my neck of the woods, and when we found one dying on our property, we immediately called animal control. They said to just let it die, bag it, and put it in the trash. Either not enough funding to do the testing they should, or general apathy. I’m included to hope for the former over the latter.

  15. Ogvorbis, broken failure. says

    Yes.

    But it was in 1970. I was four years old. I (apparently (I have no memory of the event (but the family does))) thought it was cool. Probably because is freaked out my sisters.

  16. chigau (違う) says

    This thread is about some guy who may be dying of rabies.
    What better place for blog-whoring?

  17. Tsu Dho Nimh says

    @6 Robro: Yes, there is a test for rabies, but it involves checking brain tissue for viral inclusions and staining the tissue with antibodies and flourescent tagging. Not a survivable test.

    In case of a doubtful exposure, the recommendation is for treatment, because once symptoms start it’s going to be extremely unlikely to be survived

  18. inthelemonlight says

    I went to college in upstate New York, and in my senior year rented a charming attic apartment near campus. One afternoon I woke up from a nap to the sound of something flapping around my room. Twice it started to dive-bombed me and I dove under the covers to hide.

    I lay there for a bit trying to work out a plan. Finally I peeked out, bolted for the door, slammed it, and stuck a towel underneath. Fortunately at the time my workspace was not in my bedroom – I kept my desk at the edge of the living-room – so I was able to track down a wildlife-removal specialist who arrived promptly and removed the bat.

    I didn’t have any evidence of a scratch or bite; however, I’d been asleep in a room with an un-shy bat. I had to wait four days to hear from the student health-centre as to whether the thing was rabid. That was really anxiety-inducing. Fortunately the bat wasn’t, but yikes. Not going to forget that anytime soon. Also probably not going to rent any more old attic apartments.

  19. ChasCPeterson says

    My encounter-with-a-bat anecdote is the best one because it happened at the exact place of the OP!!!

    Nah, not really. I mean, I’ve seen lots of bats at the exact place of the OP, because I have spent many hours at that building, but my closer encounters have been elsewhere. (I knew a guy in grad school who kept a pallid bat and used to carry it around in his shirt pocket. But anyway.)

    I knew the Kelso Depot very well, but during the Decrepit Years. I’ve never even been inside. But it was always worth the stop for the shade alone, and sometimes interesting birds.

    But enough about me, let’s hear everybody’s bat anecdote!
    And/or go wildly off-topic!

    Considering I’m already published on an established erotica website for LGBTIQA people, your opinion means little.

    have you met Marcel F. Williams?

  20. UnknownEric the Apostate says

    Three times within the space of about 2 months, a bat (don’t know if it was the same one, or different) got into our master bedroom and scared the crud out of us by swooping around in the middle of the night. Each time, we managed to get it out a window (and then, after the 3rd time, had a wildlife specialist batproof our attic), but man, those shots were not fun. In fact, my wife passed out getting the first series of shots, fell backwards, hit her head on a table and needed staples to close the wound.

    Add Benny Hill music and it would be comical.

  21. Useless says

    Sure, rabies is an excruciating death, but shouldn’t he be worried about autism?

  22. vhutchison says

    I have collected bats in a variety of ways, including vampire bats caught in mist nets in Colombia, but with no untoward experiences. A few years ago I was pulling weeds in my yard during midafternoon on a sunny day. While grasping a weed with my right hand and pulling it up at ground level with my left hand, I received a sharp biting pain at the base of my left thumb. I saw a bat clinging to my hand, slung it to the ground, stomped and killed it, ran into the house, placed the bat (a Little Brown Bat) in a plastic bag, washed the wound with alcohol, and took off to the emergency room.

    Knowing that a child had been bitten by a rabid bat in the neighborhood a few years earlier, and that a bat on the ground in the daytime was highly unusual, I fully expected the bat to be rabid. In the ER I was told that since it was a bat bite under unusual circumstances, I would be treated then and not after the carcass had been analyzed. I received immunoglobulin and tetanus along with rabies shots in the arm and deep into tissue around the bite at the base of the thumb (painful).

    Animal control was called, picked up the bat quickly and took it to the State Health Department for analysis. By late afternoon the next day I was informed that the tests on the bat were negative for rabies. Thus, I did not have to receive the remainder of the VERY expensive rabies injections.

  23. yazikus says

    I got my rabies vaccinations as a kid, before a move to a different country, so luckily for me they are just a memory about popsicles. (We always got popsicles after shots. And we got alot of shots before this particular move).

    But enough about me, let’s hear everybody’s bat anecdote!

    A different childhood memory is hanging out in my driveway with my brothers and sisters and tossing up our neon yellow volleyball to see the bats swoop at it. It was pretty awesome.

  24. bachfiend says

    Fortunately, in Australia, we don’t have to worry about catching rabies from bats. Just Hendra virus. And to catch that you either need to have been standing under a tree in which bats are roosting, doing what bats naturally do (it’s not necessary to be bitten or scratched). Or be exposed to a sick horse.

  25. Mattir, Another One With Boltcutters says

    Chris, can you let us know if the health department finds this person?

  26. vhutchison says

    @33. And a hello as well to a fellow comparative physiologist/herpetologist, etc.

  27. MissEla says

    I have a happy(ish) bat story from a couple of years ago. We had a truck arrive from Eastern Washington that had a small bat firmly attached to the rear bumper. Apparantly, it had decided that this bumper was the perfect place to take a nap–until the truck took off. 200 miles later, the truck finally stopped at our business. That poor little bat had been hanging on for dear life all that time and was *shaking* from fear. My supervisor and the trucker were going to kill it, but I (sap that I am) went and found a piece of cardboard to scoop it up with. Instead of climbing onto the cardboard, it turned around and raced up onto my hand and clung, still shaking (poor thing). I walked it down the alley and found a nice tree for it to rest in. I was *very lucky* that it didn’t bite me. :P

  28. carlie says

    Fortunately at the time my workspace was not in my bedroom – I kept my desk at the edge of the living-room – so I was able to track down a wildlife-removal specialist who arrived promptly and removed the bat.

    I didn’t have any evidence of a scratch or bite; however, I’d been asleep in a room with an un-shy bat. I had to wait four days to hear from the student health-centre as to whether the thing was rabid. T

    That was along the lines of what the non-helpful animal control person told me – if it had been in a room where someone was sleeping, then they would have taken and tested it. They said it was easy for someone to be scratched while asleep and not realize it.

  29. woodsong says

    The husbeast and I had a little brown bat in our house a couple of years ago. It came swooping around the ceiling of our living room while we were watching TV, then swooped back out into the kitchen. I went to close doors to the bedrooms, saw wings in the upstairs hall, and told the H. to close the door to the kitchen.

    I then whistled at the bat. Three short pulses of the same note, followed by a single higher-pitched short note. The bat immediately dropped down the stairs past me, flew past the front door, turned around at the (now closed) kitchen door, and went back upstairs.

    I wasn’t sure if the timing was coincidental or if the bat was attracted to my whistle. I decided to try it again, this time with the front door open. The bat dropped down the stairs again, slowed abruptly as it noticed the open door, slowly flew through the door and disappeared into the night.

    That was the first bat we saw that summer, and we had earlier that evening been discussing (and worrying about) whether or not we’d see any bats at all with the white-nose syndrome going around. Overall, we were happy with the unexpected visit!