All right. On to the health issue. According to the Organization for Bat Conservation, started by my friends Kim Williams and Rob Mies, I have a better chance of winning my state lottery jackpot or being murdered by my husband than dying of rabies from a bat bite. I just love that pairing of statistics.
Given my propensity for messing around with wild things, I suspect my chances of being murdered by my husband are better than average. I'm thinking of the time I promised him a turkey vulture wouldn't vomit if we drove it to Columbus in the Bird Watcher's Digest company van. And then, whoops, it did. So I'm not sure I like those odds.
Arming myself with information, I have taken a course in handling and keeping rabies vector species and learned a lot about the disease, its course in wild animals and humans, and its prevention. The course is required by the State of Ohio to get a certification to handle these species, which appears on my rehabilitation permit. The instructor of the course told me that, given the probability that I will be handling only one or two healthy bats each year, the rabies prophylaxis shots, while recommended, are neither required nor particularly warranted. If I were taking in a whole bunch of bats, coons, foxes and skunks, doing that as a full-time thing, it would be wise to get the $700 series of vaccinations. I wish it were as cheap to protect myself as it is to protect Chet. However, if I do happen to get bitten by a bat, even one that appears healthy, I'm required by law to have its head removed and sent to a state lab for testing. That's the cost of flying without a net. Obviously, my motivation to prevent myself being bitten is extremely high. I wear gloves and long sleeves, period. No one else in the house is allowed to handle the bat.
I know there are those who, reading this, will be afraid. Afraid for me, afraid for my family. I offer this: Yes, bats can get rabies. But they are not passive carriers of rabies, as I had always erroneously supposed. In fact, when they get rabies, they show symptoms and die from it, like any other mammal. Once a bat starts showing symptoms, it will be dead within a week. And only a bat showing symptoms can transmit rabies in its saliva, for the virus has to have infiltrated the brain both to cause symptoms and enter the saliva. We don't know the incubation period of rabies in bats. That would be a good thing to know. It's quite rapid--about a week to ten days--in most furbearing mammals, although one fox was known to have developed the disease 15 months after being exposed. Eep.
The percentage of wild bats with rabies is approximately one half of one percent. I was surprised to learn how low the incidence is. The percentage of bats (often visibly ill) which are brought to health departments and test positive for rabies is approximately five percent. Bats that are compromised enough to be grounded and captured are obviously a sample skewed toward sick animals.
My nephew named her Fledermaus, but I call her DeeDee. Middle name: Marie. And I am grateful that she has come into my life. It's like having a teacher in all things bat-related staying for a little while. And I can already tell that our time together will be too short.