Rabies Concern at Mojave National Preserve After Bat Lands on Visitor

Little brown bat | Photo: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

San Bernardino County public health officials want to talk to a man who had a bat land on his neck at the Kelso Depot visitor center in the Mojave Preserve on April 30. The bat has since tested positive for rabies, and health officials are trying to locate the man to make sure he gets appropriate medical attention.

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The bat in question was a member of the species Myotis lucifugus, also called the little brown bat. It's a fairly rare event for a bat to contract rabies, and the rate of transmission of rabies from bats to humans is low: about 10 cases in North America since the 1970s.

As this bat did indeed have rabies, officials are quite concerned about the unknown man who interacted with the bat on Tuesday, April 30. Rabies is almost uniformly fatal once severe symptoms develop, and that can happen anywhere from four days to several years after the bite. Death usually takes place within two weeks of the flu-like symptoms developing.

Before those symptoms develop treating rabies is almost 100 percent successful, and the legendarily fearsome rabies vaccine injections of decades past are no more. Treatment now involves a short series of relatively painless injections. (I'm speaking from personal experience here, after being bitten by a feral cat in 2004. The shots I got were honestly a piece of cake.)

If you are the man who encountered that bat at Kelso Depot, or if you know him, the San Bernardino County Department of Public Health wants to talk to you immediately at (800) 722-4794, Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-5 p.m. or (909) 356-3805 after business hours.

For the rest of us, the incident serves as a good reminder to take caution around bats acting strangely. The vast majority of bats are shy, pleasant, and beneficial to have around. Watching them fly through the skies in the Mojave National Preserve is a treat, and they keep flying insect populations down. But if a bat is acting strangely -- active during midday, approaching people or pets, or otherwise exhibiting odd behavior -- give it a wide berth and let a local law enforcement or public health official know as soon as possible.

For the record: An earlier headline indicated the visitor had been bitten. It is actually unknown if he was bitten. The headline has been corrected to reflect the accurate story.

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About the Author

Chris Clarke is a natural history writer and environmental journalist currently at work on a book about the Joshua tree. He lives in Joshua Tree.
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Actually bat - human rabies is a more common than 10 cases since the 70's. From the CDC: "among the 19 naturally acquired cases of rabies in humans in the United States from 1997-2006, 17 were associated with bats." Most people were unaware of a bite. Some may have simply had one in the bedroom in which they were sleeping.