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It was a typical August evening in Washtenaw County. Eight-year-old John Michael was taking the newest member of his family, 14-week-old puppy Huckleberry, out for his evening walk around his rural Dexter home. Then the pair stumbled into a bat by a tree in their front yard.
John Michael had learned in school that he wasn’t supposed to touch wildlife, so he ran Huckleberry inside and told his mom, Rose Jerome, who is a veterinary technician at Michigan State, about the bat. Jerome rushed out and noticed that the bat wasn’t acting normal – it was on its back, and when she touched it with a shovel it curled and hissed.
This is where some people may hit the bat with the shovel and throw it into the woods. Luckily, Jerome knew what to do. She packed the bat up in a Tupperware container and plastic bag and submitted it for testing.
Anytime you are exposed to a bat, or are bitten by a wild animal, contact the Washtenaw County Health Department at 734-544-6700 for advice on whether the animal needs to be tested for rabies.
A few days later, Jerome received a phone call from Washtenaw County Health Department nurse Judy Gwozdek. The bat had tested positive for rabies.
“No one ever wants to hear that they have encountered a rabid animal,” said Gwozdek. “However, it is critical information to know, so that we can take all necessary steps to make sure whoever was exposed does not get rabies, which is almost always fatal.”
Bat bites can be small and difficult to detect, so there was a possibility that both John Michael – who was barefoot when he stumbled across the bat – and Huckleberry could have been exposed to rabies. Gwozdek consulted with the Jerome family and coordinated post-exposure prophylaxis (a total of five shots) for John Michael, vaccine and quarantine for little Huckleberry (who had not yet been vaccinated because of his age), and booster vaccines for the Jeromes’ four other pets.
“You never in 1,000 years think you’re going to find a rabies positive bat in your yard,” said Jerome. “But I couldn’t have asked for a better experience in a bad time. Judy was always available and supportive. Through the whole process, she was there guiding us through it.”
A quarantined puppy was a bit difficult for the animal-loving Jerome family, but Rose is relieved that her family avoided a dangerous rabies scare.
Huckleberry and John Michael
Jerome’s advice for anyone who finds themselves in a similar situation to her family’s bat encounter: “Rabies isn’t something you take lightly. You don’t want to risk your life, your pet’s life, your child’s life. Catch the animal, and call the appropriate people to get it tested.”
As of late August, five rabid bats have been identified in Washtenaw County in 2018. From 2008-2017, we identified one to three rabid bats each year.
Call the Washtenaw County Health Department at 734-544-6700 if you have been exposed to a bat. In her role as a veterinary technician, Jerome also added that pets should always be up to date on their vaccines, because you never know when they may be exposed to rabies.
Find local rabies data and more information about what to do when you encounter wild animals on our Animal Bites, Bats & Rabies webpage.
Washtenaw County Health Department is sharing this story with permission from the Jerome family. Thank you to them for their willingness to educate others with their story.