Although a bat with rabies was found in Berkeley, very few bats normally carry the virus

[See update at foot of story.]

A bat infected with rabies was recently found in the area of the 300 block of Rugby Avenue in Berkeley. Although the bat was removed without incident, Berkeley residents are being advised to be extra vigilant as, unless it is treated promptly, rabies is a fatal disease in humans.

“The general advice is if you see a sick or dead bat, leave them alone,” said Fish and Game Warden Patrick Foy.

People are cautioned to avoid skunks and bats and to not handle dead wild animals. Children should be educated about the dangers of wild animals and warned not to touch any animal they do not know. Any nocturnal animal which is seen during daylight hours such as skunks, bats, or grey foxes should be considered dangerous.

In Berkeley, bats and skunks are the most likely animals to be infected, although un-immunized dogs, foxes, coyotes, badgers, weasels, raccoons and unvaccinated cats can also carry the rabies virus. Rodents (gophers, mice, hamsters, squirrels, rats, opossums, guinea pigs) and rabbits are considered very low risk for rabies. Alameda County has been a Rabies Area since 1958.

There is a misconception that all bats carry the rabies virus. “This is far from the truth,” said Foy. “Very few carry the virus.” Foy added, however, that if a bat is very sick there’s a high probability it has rabies. “Any sick bat should be treated as though it has rabies,” he said.

The rabid rat was discovered in the 300 block of Rugby Ave in Berkeley

The indications that an animal has rabies include foaming at the mouth which indicates the disease is at its end stage, according to Foy.

Sightings of rabid animals are rare, said Foy. “But it is common enough to be aware of,” he said.

Rabies is a deadly virus disease which affects the nervous system. Once symptoms start in an infected human being, it is uniformly fatal. There is no known cure. Rabies is transmitted in the saliva of infected warm blooded animals (mammals) through mucous membranes or any break in the skin by biting, licking or scratching.

For more information, visit the website of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Rabies facts from the City of Berkeley Public Health Department:

The degree of risk to humans and pets for rabies is determined by the species of the animal and the circumstances. There is no risk for rabies from reptiles, birds, or insects.

If a wild animal such as a skunk, bat, or grey fox which is normally nocturnal (active at night) is seen in the daylight acting in a strange manner, it may be tested for rabies by the State Health Laboratory. Example of animals to be tested:

  • A skunk roaming or staggering in daylight.
  • A bat hanging on a window screen or sill.
  • A grey fox acting in an aggressive manner in the daytime.

The following are protective measures that are necessary to prevent rabies in humans and domestic animals.

  • Have dog(s) and cat(s) vaccinated against rabies. Vaccination and Licensing is required for all dogs four months of age and older. Dogs which are first vaccinated at one year of age or less must be revaccinated one year later. The interval for revaccination is three years for older dogs.
  • Confine dogs to property especially puppies less than four months of age since they are not protected against rabies. Otherwise, if a dog is taken off the premises it must be on a leash.
  • Report any animal bites of humans or any close contact between dogs or cats with skunks or bats or other wild animals to the City of Berkeley Animal Control Services at(510) 981-6600.
  • Avoid wild animals or domestic animals which are strays or which run loose. Do not feed wild animals by hand. It is dangerous to attempt to feed, pet, or care for sick or injured animals.
  • Do not attract skunks or raccoons with food! They will eat garbage, fruit, vegetables, and especially dog and cat food. Pet food left outside is a strong invitation to wildlife.  Keep garbage cans covered with tight fitting lids.
  • Do not provide shelter for skunks and other wild animals. Close all openings under your home and other buildings. Keep foundation vent screens in good repair. Eliminated piles of trash, rocks, wood, hollow logs, heavy growth of vegetation and other possible hiding places.
  • Do not provide shelter for bats. Close, seal, or screen all openings so there is none greater than 1/4″ in size especially at roof level. Install 1/4″ screen on attic vents and maintain in good repair.

Update, 12:45pm: The last known case of a rabid bat in Berkeley was in 2007, according to Lyn Dailey, Director of Public Health Nursing at the City of Berkeley, and, although rabies is endemic in California, there have only been 15 recorded cases of rabies in humans in the state since 1980. Dailey does not recall a case of rabies in humans in Berkeley. “There are very few cases of rabies, but many cases of people at high risk being vaccinated for rabies,” she said.

Bats are the primary source of rabies in animals, Dailey said, and it is not always obvious whether you have been bitten by a bat. “If you wake up and there’s a bat in your room, it’s possible you have been bitten and do not know about it,” she said. “It’s important to be urgently evaluated by a doctor.”

No particular area of Berkeley is more prone to bats than others, according to Dailey.

Call the City of Berkeley Animal Control Services at (510) 981-6600 if suspicious or dead animals are observed in your area. Call them also if you require information regarding wild animals such as bats or skunks. Or call Vector Control Services at (510) 981-5310, Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. For after-hours emergencies, contact Dispatch at (510) 981-5900.

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Tracey Taylor is co-founder of Berkeleyside and co-founder and editorial director of Cityside, the nonprofit parent to Berkeleyside and The Oaklandside. Before launching Berkeleyside, Tracey wrote for...