Two rabid bats in one year prompts Pitkin public health to remind public about rabies precautions

A bat glides across the sky.
Mark Baker/AP

Two bats tested by Pitkin County Public Health have tested positive for rabies this year. It may seem like a small number, but compared to years past, it’s a significant jump — and one rabid bat in contact with people is one too many. 

“I have coordinated rabies testing for the past six years, and during that time, there was only one (rabies) positive bat I can remember in the last five summers,” said Carlyn Porter, the county’s emergency preparedness and response program administrator. “This year, we have had two from different areas of the county, which is rather unusual.”

She said her office normally works a fair number of bat-related calls each year, but the animals rarely test positive for rabies. Rabies is a viral pathogen that is nearly 100% fatal in humans if left untreated. It can spread to people and pets if they are bitten or scratched by a rabid animal.

The end of summer usually marks the winding down season for local bats, and Pitkin County is home to at least eight species. It’s rare for a bat to make a home inside a structure, and those that do usually are creating a nest for their young or seeking shelter while ill. Porter said that bats flying around outside are less likely to have rabies than bats found indoors. 

Most bat species hibernate or migrate for the winter, according to a Pitkin County Public Health press release. 

Why Pitkin County has seen two rabies-positive bats this season is less clear. Porter said bats are a known reservoir species for rabies in the state, and their habitat being in close proximity to humans in mountain regions increases risk of exposure. 

The county recently reported a potential local transmission of West Nile Virus, another vector-borne disease, and hypothesized that climate change might be responsible for its presence in the high country. But Porter reiterated that the data to support that claim is years away.

“There’s always the possibility of increased vector-borne disease with climate change, but it would take more years of data to determine if this is a true trend or not,” she said.

What to do if you come into contact with a bat

If you spot a bat in your house, the county recommends this course of action:

  • Never touch the bat with bare hands.
  • If the bat can be contained in a room without direct contact, such as by closing a door, do so.
  • If you attempt to capture the bat (which is not recommended), wear thick, long sleeves and leather gloves.
  • Once the bat is contained, call your local animal control to collect the bat

If you wake up to a bat in your room, Pitkin County Community Response Officer Emily Casebeer said to contain the bat in the bedroom, so the bat can be captured by animal control and tested for rabies. It is unlikely a bite would wake a person, she said.

“Because (bats) have a small mouth and tiny teeth, it doesn’t take much to keep them from being able to bite you,” she said. “But if you need to handle it …. (wear) something as simple as a leather glove, or rubber gloves and a big fluffy towel, (which) will prevent them from being able to bite through that and get to your skin.”


Vaccination protocol differs between humans and pets. 

  • For pets: Vaccines are available and recommended for all dogs and cats. Speak to your vet regarding vaccinating your pet.
  • For exposed individuals: Post Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) is available for individuals identified by public health as being a high-risk exposure to rabies. PEP recommendations are made based on the type of exposure and individuals should not seek vaccination without consulting with public health. PEP for rabies includes five different shots over the course of two weeks and, if recommended, must begin within 10 days of exposure.

Remediation efforts such as closing gaps or entry points in homes is generally an effective preventative measure against bats coming into a home. 

As dangerous as rabies is to humans and other animals, Porter does not recommend attempting to catch or kill bats. 

“Most bats here are healthy and don’t want to hurt or come into contact with people. I wouldn’t recommend trying to catch or kill one, as doing so may increase your risk of accidentally touching the bat and risking a bite or scratch,” she said. “If the bat is simply flying outside, please leave it alone and observe from a distance.”


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