Home Biologist For the first time, a Juneau bat tested positive for rabies

For the first time, a Juneau bat tested positive for rabies


A veterinarian autopsies a silver-haired bat with rabies in Fairbanks. June 28, 2022. (Dr. Kimberlee Beckmen.)

A bat in Juneau has tested positive for rabies. State biologists say it’s a first — and people aren’t at risk.

The protocol for a suspicious bat is as follows: without touching it, you put it in a box and leave it overnight.

“If this is a normal bat, we would expect it to fly away during this time,” said state wildlife biologist Roy Churchwell.

He received a call from animal control about a suspicious bat outside an apartment building on Douglas Island in late June.

“He was still there in the morning, which told us something was wrong,” he said.

Churchwell went to get the bat, which had to be euthanized. He sent him to the state veterinarian, Dr. Kimberlee Beckmen in Fairbanks, who tested him for rabies.

“This is the first time a bat on Douglas Island or in the Juneau area has tested positive, but that doesn’t mean we expect more cases,” Beckmen said in a statement. hurry. “This detection in a different location just underscores that the risk of bat rabies is still present in Southeast Alaska.”

It’s only the sixth bat to test positive for rabies in Alaska in more than 45 years of testing, according to the state Department of Fish and Game. All six were found in Southeast Alaska, but this is the first in Juneau.

“So far this is just an isolated case,” Churchwell said. “We’ve sent a couple more bats that haven’t tested positive to the Juneau area, so it’s not something we’re too worried about yet.”

Karen Blejwas identified the bat as a silver-haired bat. She is a wildlife biologist with the ADFG’s Threatened, Endangered and Diversity program.

“It’s actually only the fifth or sixth silver-haired bat specimen we’ve ever collected in Alaska. So that was unusual,” she said.

They can be distinguished from the brown-haired bats typical of the region because they are larger and have rounded rather than pointed ears. They are usually recognizable by their silver hair.

She said their numbers seem to be increasing in Southeast Alaska, but they’ve proven so difficult to catch that biologists have resorted to acoustic tracking them. Silver-haired bats have a distinct call, but you cannot hear it.

“All echolocation calls are above the range of human hearing,” Blejwas said. “We have special ultrasonic microphones that we use to spy on bats.”

Biologists take recordings of bat calls and lower the frequency so that it is within the range of human hearing. Blejwas is currently working with data from a citizen science monitoring project to try to determine regional bat populations.

She and Churchwell agree that the most likely route of rabies exposure would be if an unvaccinated pet becomes entangled with a rabid bat and then transmits it to a human.

“The key is to make sure your pets are all vaccinated,” he said.

Churchwell says he only gets called in to check for three or four bats a year, and that’s usually because they’re hanging around the backstage of a home.

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