Western UP Health Department

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Photo of a small brown bat showing its teeth.  In Michigan, bats are the animal most commonly found to be rabid.

Animal bites can be extremely dangerous, resulting in severe infections, serious injury, or exposure to rabies. Rabies a viral disease that causes acute encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) in warm-blooded animals. It is most commonly transmitted by a bite from an infected animal. For humans, rabies is almost always fatal if post-exposure prophylaxis is not administered prior to the onset of severe symptoms.

All animal bites should be reported to the health department.

What Does Exposure Mean?

Rabies is transmitted by introducing the virus into open cuts or wounds such as a bite, or by contact with mucous membranes. There are 2 primary types of exposure:

1) Bite (higher risk)-This would include any penetration of skin by an animal’s teeth. Bites to the face and hands or multiple bites carry the highest risk.

2) Non-bite-Scratches or abrasions received from an animal, or the contamination of open cuts, wounds, or mucous membranes with an animal’s saliva, brain, or other neural tissue. Non-bite transmission of rabies is rare.

If you are bitten by an animal, immediately and thoroughly wash the wound with plenty of soap and warm water to remove as much dirt and saliva as possible. Follow the washing with an antiseptic solution, such as iodine or alcohol, but always wash with soap and water first. Seek medical attention to address any trauma from the bite. Your doctor, in consultation with the health department will determine if post-exposure prophylaxis should be started.

Bats & Rabies

In Michigan, bats are the animal most commonly found to be rabid. Because of their small teeth, a bite from a bat may not be felt. Therefore, any direct contact with a bat represents a potential exposure to rabies.

Because a bat bite may not be felt or readily detectable, there are many situations that might qualify as exposures, especially in cases where a bat has been found in the same room as a person who may not be aware that contact has occurred. If you find a bat in the room with a sleeping person, a child, or someone who is mentally disabled or intoxicated, SAFELY CONTAIN THE LIVE BAT. In these instances, you should safely collect the bat until the need for rabies testing has been evaluated. To catch the bat: wear leather gloves and place a coffee can or box over the bat, then use a piece of cardboard with holes punched in it to slide under the can or box, taping this cover firmly to the container. Contact your local health department office for further instructions.

DO NOT KILL THE BAT! The bat must be humanely euthanized to be eligible for rabies for testing. If the bat tests negative for the presence of rabies virus, then no treatment for the exposed person is required. If the bat tests positive for rabies, or the bat is not available for testing then the exposed person should receive rabies post-exposure prophylaxis.

Rabies Prevention

To reduce your risk of exposure to rabies, follow these simple guidelines:

  • All pets and domestic livestock (dogs, cats, ferrets, horses, cattle, and sheep) for which a licensed vaccine exists should be vaccinated. Vaccines should be administered by a licensed veterinarian, and boosters given according to the manufacturers directions.
  • Do not approach or handle unfamiliar or wild animals. Also, avoid allowing pets to interact with wild animals. Unvaccinated domestic animals that are exposed to a potential rabies carrier may be required to be euthanized.
  • Thoroughly wash any wound caused by an animal with soap and water and seek medical attention immediately.
  • If you are exposed to rabies, begin Post-exposure Prophylaxis as soon as possible.

For additional information regarding animal bites and rabies, please contact your local health department office or visit:

State of Michigan-Emerging Disease Issues