ILLINOIS (WEHT) – As things warm up, the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) warns the public about rabies, citing instances of rabid bats found in five Illinois counties as of May 25.

“While there is a preventive treatment for rabies, it is one of the deadliest diseases we know,” said IDPH Acting Director Amaal Tokars. “Bats are the most common carriers of the rabies virus in Illinois and are responsible for the vast majority of human rabies cases in the United States in recent years. But they are not the only carrier of rabies. The public should be not approach bats or any wild, unfamiliar or stray animal, and any animal that appears to be sick.”

Health officials say people can contract rabies, which is a virus that affects the brain and nerves. People can get rabies after being bitten by an infected animal. Rabies can also be contracted when saliva or spit from a rabid animal gets directly into a person’s eyes, nose, mouth, or a wound. A bite from a rabid animal can be potentially fatal if not treated and the public should take precautions to keep bats out of their homes.

IDPH is also reminding the public make sure that rabies vaccinations are up-to-date for pets and any valuable livestock and horses for whom a rabies vaccine is available. If a pet is exposed to a high-risk wild animal – such as a bat, skunk, raccoon, fox or coyote – people should contact a veterinarian for advice immediately.

IDPH says an animal does not have to be aggressive or exhibit other symptoms to have rabies. Changes in any animal’s normal behavior can be early signs of rabies. A bat that is active during the day, found on the ground, or is unable to fly is more likely than others to be rabid. Such bats are often easily approached, but should never be handled.

IDPH says the following tips can help prevent the spread of rabies:

  • Do not touch, feed, or unintentionally attract wild animals with open garbage cans or litter.
  • Never adopt wild animals or bring them into your home. Do not try to nurse sick, wild animals to health. Call animal control or an animal rescue agency for assistance.
  • Teach children never to handle unfamiliar animals, wild or domestic, even if they appear friendly.  “Love your own, leave other animals alone” is a good principle for children to learn to reduce the risk of exposures to rabid animals.
  • Maintain homes and other buildings so bats cannot get inside.
  • If a bat is in your home, do not release the bat outdoors until after speaking with animal control or public health officials.
  • After consulting with animal control or public health officials, the bat may need to be captured for rabies testing to determine if you need preventive treatment.

For more information please visit the IDPH website.