LAWRENCE — For the first time in five years, a rabid bat has been discovered in Van Buren County.

Van Buren/Cass District Health Department officials announced on Tuesday that they were notified on Sept. 16th that a bat had tested positive for rabies. The incident marks the first time since 2016 that a rabid bat has been discovered in the county.

The bat was discovered in the Lawton area after it bit two domesticated cats that were owned by a local resident, according to Danielle Persky, health officer for the Van Buren/Cass District Health Department.

“The cats have to be isolated but are still alive,” Persky said.

The rabid bat discovered in Van Buren County isn’t unique to Michigan this year. According to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, the number of positive cases of rabies in bats is higher this year than in past years.

To date, there have been 40 bats and 1 dog that have tested positive for rabies in Michigan during 2021.

Rabies is a viral disease that attacks the nervous system and brain, frequently leading to death. Rabies is most commonly found in bats, raccoons, skunks, and foxes. Unvaccinated pets and livestock can also be infected.

It is not always possible to determine that an animal is infected with rabies by an initial observation, according to Van Buren/Cass district health officials.

Symptoms of rabies infection in animals include nervousness, aggressiveness, excessive drooling, foaming at the mouth, and abnormal behavior. This abnormal behavior can include wild animals losing their fear of human beings and animals that are normally active at night being active during the day.

Animals and humans can be exposed to rabies if they are bitten by an infected animal, or the saliva of an infected animal comes in contact with fresh scratches, cuts, or the membranes of the eyes, nose, or mouth.

Health department officials say that if someone is bitten by a bat, they should seek medical attention immediately, but should not let the bat go. If possible, they should save the bat for testing. They can contact the local health department or animal control agency to arrange for rabies testing.

Health department officials also urge people to have pets and livestock vaccinated against rabies.

For more information regarding rabies exposure, visit the health department website at www.vbcassdhd.org or call (269)621-3143 and ask to speak with a Public Health Nurse. For further information on rabies, visit Emerging Disease Issues – Rabies.