Rabid bat found in town
Health officials confirmed Friday that a bat found recently at the old junior high school has tested positive for rabies.
The bat was brought to a veterinarian by a woman Sept. 25. The Routt County Department of Environmental Health sent the bat to a state laboratory for testing and the positive result came back late Wednesday, said Routt County Environmental Health Director Michael Zopf.
The last time a rabid animal was found in Routt County was in 1986, he said.
“It’s just a very unique situation for us,” Zopf said.
Officials said they are working to find out whether the woman who brought in the bat may have come in contact with it.
Sue Birch, director of the Visiting Nurse Association, said anyone who may have been bitten by or come in contact with a rabid bat should see a health-care provider immediately.
The woman brought the bat in a box to the Steamboat Veterinary Hospital the morning of Sept. 25, Zopf said. The woman saw the bat near the old junior high school on Seventh and Aspen streets downtown while she was dropping her child off for dance lessons and was concerned about the bat because of its behavior, he said.
Josh Engle was working construction about 9 a.m. that Thursday at the old middle school when he said he overheard three women talking about a sickly bat they had found nearby. Engle said he offered to help the women put the bat in a box so they could take it to the veterinarian and have it tested for rabies. He then followed them to the old school gym, where they found the bat laying on the front steps, he said.
He said he knew it “wasn’t right” when he saw it. “It didn’t try to fly away or move when I picked it up. It just squealed,” he said.
Engle, a Hayden resident, said he used gloves to put the creature in a box. “I was real careful to not get near it,” he said. The woman then took it to the vet.
The vet euthanized the bat because it was acting aggressively and appeared sick and then gave it to Zopf’s department to send to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment lab for testing.
Health officials originally thought the bat had been found on the grounds of the Steamboat Springs Middle School and Strawberry Park Elementary School, and so school officials sent letters home with students notifying them and parents about the bat and asking whether any students may have come in contact with a bat.
School officials will tell students and parents more about the bat Monday.
The bat was a hoary bat, a type of bat that typically is solitary, Zopf said. Bats migrate south this time of year, so he said it is possible the bat fell out of the sky as it passed through the area.
In Colorado, 38 rabid bats have been found this year.
Rabies is a virus that affects the central nervous system of mammals, causing the brain and spinal cord to inflame. It is fatal if left untreated.
The incubation period for the virus can be as short as a few weeks to several months, or longer. The virus is spread through saliva and mucus, and so is typically passed from an animal to a person through a bite.
Another mode of transmission can occur when a person handles an infected animal and touches saliva or other body fluids, Zopf said.
When an animal first contracts the disease, it can act abnormally by showing up in odd places at odd times of day. A bat, for instance, may start flying during the day.
Eventually, the animal can become extremely aggressive or almost comatose, and then dies.
Raccoons, skunks, bats, foxes and coyotes are the main hosts of rabies within the United States, according to the Colorado Division of Wildlife. In Colorado, bats have been the primary host for 20 years.
Zopf said people always should take precaution to stay away from animals that might have the virus.
“Rabies can be found in wild animals,” he said. “If any of these animals appear to be acting in an abnormal behavior, you should steer clear.”
Anyone with health questions about rabies can call the Visiting Nurse Association at 879-1632 on weekdays or 879-1090 on weekends.
Anyone with other questions about rabies can call Michael Zopf at 879-0185 or at 846-5315.
Animals that appear to have rabies should be reported to the Colorado Division of Wildlife, animal control, the Steamboat Springs Police Department or the Routt County Sheriff’s Office.
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The Routt County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday denied Sheriff Garrett Wiggins’ request to hire another deputy that would serve as a school resource officer in two schools in the Steamboat Springs School District.