State and local public health officials are reminding Montanans to be aware of the risk for exposure to rabies this summer. Encounters between humans and wild animals often increase in the summer months because of the time spent hiking and engaging in other outdoor activities. Jennifer Miller is a registered nurse with the Communicable Disease section at the state of Montana and she says bat migration can have a significant impact.

“If we have an exposure that is reported and requires preventative treatment, that is usually due to exposure to a bat,” Miller said. “If you see bats flying outside, that is not an exposure. However, if you have physical contact with a bat or you wake up with a bat in the room and you have been sleeping, or you have someone who can’t accurately recall if they had contact with a bat, say a small child that was in the room alone with a bat, then you should contact the local heath department.”

Miller provided a variety of rabies prevention tips.

“Leave the wildlife alone and don’t disturb them,” Miller said. “If you see bats roosting, don’t disturb them either. They are great for our ecosystem and it also prevents contact with rabies. If you have dogs, cats and other domestic pets, do vaccinate them. It protects them from potential exposure to rabies for them, which also protects your family too.”

According to Miller, prevention of rabies through vaccination is wildly successful. Rabies is almost universally fatal once symptoms start. On average, there are about three rabies related deaths a year in the United States. In Montana, we haven’t had a rabies death since 1997. In 1996, there was a rabies death right here in Missoula.