Dozens of rabid bats reported in Round Rock in 2012
Jan 07, 2013 (Austin American-Statesman - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
In Chinese culture, 2012 was the year of the dragon. It could also go down locally as the year of the rabid bat.
Round Rock residents found 79 rabid bats in 2012, and a good chunk of those were downtown.
According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, which tracks rabies cases, 88 rabid bats were found in Williamson County through Dec. 27. That's the most in Central Texas -- including Travis County, which saw 74 rabid bats -- and up from Williamson County's 86 rabid bats in 2011 and 78 rabid bats in 2010.
That doesn't necessarily mean the incidence of rabies in wildlife is rising. Because rabies reporting depends on people turning dead bats in for testing, those statistics primarily reflect the increase in the number of bats that were tested, experts said.
"Here's the thing -- we have more people turning in bats that are rabid that it just makes the numbers look even higher," said Janet Hurley, a program specialist with the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service who assists school districts with their integrated pest management programs. "Per bat colony, the rabies incident is very low."
In 2012, Williamson County sent 305 bats for testing by the department of state health services, compared to only 183 in 2008. The percentage of bats from Williamson County testing positive for rabies has fluctuated each year since 2008. For instance, 25 percent of the 183 bats tested in 2008 actually had rabies. In 2010, 30 percent of the 260 bats tested had rabies. In 2011, 24 percent tested positive; in 2012, about 29 percent.
Hurley said Round Rock's bat colony -- a huge one under the Interstate 35 bridge that crosses McNeil Drive -- is likely producing more rabies cases than the downtown Austin colony because of its location.
"You've got that colony there at McNeil and you have all these schools that surround it, so they are hyper-vigilant about testing the bats," Hurley said. "Congress is over water, so where do the bats fall if they've got rabies They fall in the water."
Round Rock's colony is also not far from the city's historic downtown, where 20 of the 79 rabid bats were found. Older masonry buildings, Hurley said, provide an excellent home for Mexican free-tailed bats that have "decided for whatever reason they like concrete better than trees or caves."
Mexican free-tailed bats can easily squeeze through small openings in old structures. About 100 bats can fit in a space the size of a shoebox, Hurley said. "If it's a historic building, it's like bats come here."
Hurley helped develop a campaign teaching students how to deal with dead or dying bats: Don't touch them with your bare hands, and turn them in for testing only if they're known to have made human contact.
"We [have] done such a great job of training them that if they find a bat on the ground ... they'll turn the bat in for testing. They've gotten really good at that," Hurley said. However, she said that doesn't always need to happen.
"As long as there's been no human contact with it, if it's a dead bat, just deal with it like you would a dead rat," Hurley said.
Because such contact is so rare, officials say they don't see the bats turning up downtown as a major problem.
"That's where they live. We're not trying to get rid of them at all," Round Rock Police Department spokeswoman Dee Carver said. "When we find them, we test them and address it accordingly."
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