The Central District Health Department is urging people to take precautions, after seeing an increased number of bats in Ada County testing positive for rabies. However, southwestern Idaho is home to thousands of bats year round, and activity in September spikes as more bats begin to migrate.
"We also have young bats that are learning how to fly and they're not very good at that necessarily," Dr. Rita Dixon with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game said. "So sometimes they end up in places where they may come in contact with people."
Dr. Dixon says although many people are taught seeing a bat in daylight means the animal is sick or infected with rabies, that's not always the case.
"Many of the calls I receive from the public who come in contact with bats are seeing a bat that's roosting, which means hanging upside down, on the side of a building and sometimes the bat is low to the ground, but that's all normal!" Dr. Dixon explained.
A bat found on the ground, however, may be a different story. It could be injured, possibly attacked by a cat or other animal, but rabies is a possibility.
"The bats [infected with rabies] usually stop drinking water and become dehydrated," Dr. Dixon explains. "When they become dehydrated they lose their appetite, then they're no longer foraging, they become weak, they're on the ground, and then they die."
Epidemiologist Sarah Correll explains bats can be found all throughout the Treasure Valley. "We have found them throughout Boise and in urban areas, everywhere from the North End to Bown Crossing to Meridian."
Dr. Dixon says touching a living bat will likely force officials to euthanize the animal for testing, so if you find a bat on the ground never touch it with your bare hands.
It's important to keep your pets up to date on vaccines, because an unvaccinated animal that may come in close contact with an infected bat will likely also need to be euthanized.