Health dept. confirms rabid bat in Charleston; 2 pets exposed

Published: Aug. 11, 2023 at 11:55 AM EDT|Updated: Aug. 11, 2023 at 5:52 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control confirmed two dogs were exposed to a bat that tested positive for rabies in downtown Charleston.

The bat was found near Drake and Amherst Streets, the agency said.

The dogs are being quarantined as required in the South Carolina Rabies Control Act.

DHEC said no people were known to have been exposed.

The bat was submitted to DHEC’s lab for testing on Wednesday and was confirmed to have rabies on Thursday.

“Rabid bats have been known to transmit the rabies virus,” Rabies Program team leader Terri McCollister said. “People don’t always realize they or a pet have been bitten since bat teeth are tiny and bites are easy to overlook.”

DHEC says you should always assume a person or pet has potentially been bitten when:

  • You wake up to find a bat in a room or tent;
  • A bat is found where children, pets or persons with impaired mental capacity (intoxicated or mentally disabled) have been left unattended; or
  • You have been in direct contact with a bat.

You cannot tell if a bat, or any other animal, has rabies by simply looking at it. Rabies must be confirmed in a laboratory. Unusual behavior in bats that might indicate the animal has rabies includes daytime activity, inability to fly and being found in places they are not usually seen, like in your home or on your lawn. An exposure is defined as direct contact (such as through broken skin or mucous membranes in the eyes, nose or mouth) with saliva or brain/nervous system tissue from an infected animal. Immediately wash any part of your body that may have come in contact with saliva or neural tissue with plenty of soap and water and seek medical attention.

If you believe you, someone you know or your pets have come in contact with this bat or another animal that potentially has rabies, call DHEC’s Public Health Charleston office at 843-953-4713, which is open Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.; or 888-847-0902 after hours and on holidays.

DHEC says you should never handle a bat or any wild or stray animal, alive or dead, with your bare hands.

Any bat that could have had potential contact with people, pets or livestock should be safely trapped in a sealed container and not touched. Never release a bat that has potentially exposed a person or pet. Once a bat is released, it cannot be tested for rabies.

“Although bats can carry rabies, not every bat is infected with the virus,” McCollister said. “Bats are an important part of South Carolina’s ecosystems and deserve a healthy degree of respect just like all wild animals.”

It is important to keep pets up to date on their rabies vaccination, as this is one of the easiest and most effective ways to protect against the disease.

This bat is the second animal in Charleston County to test positive for rabies in 2023. There have been 42 cases of rabid animals statewide this year.

Since 2002, South Carolina has averaged approximately 148 positive cases a year. In 2022, three of the 83 confirmed rabies cases in South Carolina were in Charleston County.