A person who picked up a bat in a swimming pool last week in York County may have been exposed to rabies, according to South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control officials.
DHEC released details Monday about the case, saying in a statement it’s not clear whether the person was bitten or scratched by the rabid animal but that “bat bites are often hard to identify as bat teeth are so small.”
The person has been referred to private health providers for potential treatment.
The exposure happened near Rock Hill on Wednesday, officials said. The person initially thought the bat was a leaf floating in a swimming pool and picked up the animal with their bare hands. Two days later, the bat tested positive for rabies.
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The bat is the fifth animal to test positive for rabies this year in York County. There were 13 animals that tested positive in York County last year.
“People often incorrectly associate bats with rabies,” said Sandra Craig of DHEC’s Bureau of Environmental Health Services. “Bats are an important part of South Carolina’s ecosystems and deserve a healthy degree of respect, just like all wild animals.”
Craig said it’s not possible to know whether any animal has rabies until the disease is confirmed in a lab. Rabies “warning signs,” she said, include bats that have the inability to fly or bats active during the daytime.
“Rabies should be suspected if bats are found in places they are not usually seen, like in your home or on your lawn,” she said. “Never handle a bat or any wild or stray animal, alive or dead, with your bare hands.”
Officials say bats can transmit rabies to humans and pets.
“If you find a bat in a room, a tent or a cabin where someone has been sleeping or where unattended children have been playing, always assume the bat could have bitten the sleeping person or the unattended children,” Craig said.
For information on how to safely capture a bat, please visit the CDC’s website at: www.cdc.gov/rabies/bats/contact/capture.html.
About 275 people in South Carolina must undergo preventive rabies treatment every year. Most cases are the result of scratches or bites from a rabid or suspected rabid animal.
Experts recommend immediately washing a scratched or bit area with soap and water if rabies exposure is suspected.
There were 139 confirmed cases of rabies in animals last year in South Carolina. There have been 81 confirmed cases in animals statewide this year.
Anna Douglas: 803-329-4068, @ADouglasHerald