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Health officials warn of sick bats during migration season

The big brown bat.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The Utah County Health Department is warning Utahns to avoid grounded bats during their upcoming migration. Utah is home to 18 species of bats, many of which migrate through the state in the fall and spring. The upcoming migration to the Southern Hemisphere is expected to last until the end of October.

Bats are safe to observe from a distance but those found on the ground may carry illnesses, said Lance Madigan of the health department.

Most bats will avoid people if they’re feeling well, however sick bats tend to come to the ground.

“When they’re sick, with rabies, that’s when they come to the ground or people pick them up. The problem is that rabies is an extremely dangerous disease that most people, if they contract it, actually die from it,” Madigan said.

Around a third of bats found on the ground test positive for rabies, which attacks the central nervous system and, without proper care, can lead to death.

“If someone does come in contact with bats they’ll sometimes think it’s not a big deal. Their teeth are so tiny, so thin; people will get bit without even realizing it,” explained Madigan.

It can take months to show signs of rabies and by the time these signs do appear it is generally too late to treat the illness. The health department urges people or pets that come in contact with a bat to seek medical attention.

If you do find a bat on the ground, dispose of it with a shovel or thick gloves.