VISTA – On a Sunday afternoon, three boys found a sick bat and put him in a take-out food container and brought him to a pet store with the hopes of saving the bat’s life.
The county health department tested the bat and determined it was infected with rabies.
Those officials had been trying to locate the boys since they brought the bat into the PETCO store near the 78 Freeway at 520 Hacienda Drive, at about 6 p.m. on July 10, to determine if the boys were exposed to the potentially deadly rabies disease.
The three boys were identified July 18 and interviewed by health officials July 19.
“We have interviewed the boys extensively and confirmed they did not touch the bat,” said Eric McDonald, M.D., M.P.H., Deputy County Public Health Officer.
This is at least the fifth bat in the county to test positive for rabies since the beginning of the year, according to health officials.
“It’s almost always fatal to humans,” said Michele Ginsberg, M.D., chief medical director of the epidemiology and immunization branch at the San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency.
It was originally believed that there were two boys who delivered the bat to the store, but authorities since learned that there were three boys, estimated to be between the ages of 12 to 15.
Rabies can be transmitted by an infected animal to a human through not only a bite, but also from the introduction of the animal’s saliva to the person if saliva gets into the person’s mouth, eye, nose or an open cut on the skin, Ginsberg said.
Since bats groom themselves, there may have been saliva on its wings or claws, she said.
The boys needed to be assessed, and asked questions such as whether or not they touched the bat with their bare hands and if they have any cuts on their hands or fingers, Ginsberg added.
“The key here is to contact the person and carefully go over if there was an exposure concern,” she said.
If so, there is an opportunity for rabies treatment before any symptom presents itself, she said.
An infected person can feel fine for months or even years, but once a symptom of the disease occurs, the time period for treatment opportunity is over, Ginsberg said.
The outcome for an untreated person infected with rabies is usually death, she said.
Ginsberg said it is unusual for a bat to be lying on the ground, especially during the day, which is an indicator that it’s sick.
She urges people not to come into contact with a dead bat, but discard of it in a trashcan after using a disposable item to pick it up. The county also hopes to locate the area where the bat was found.
Diana Benton is a department manager who was working at the PETCO store when the boys delivered the bat.
She described the boys as each being Caucasian and said they were alone when they brought the bat in.
She said the bat was delivered in a red and white-checkered food container, similar to one commonly used for French fries.
Benton said she is worried about the boys since learning of the bat’s rabid condition.
“They wanted to save it,” she said. “They even named it.”