The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services is urging people to be aware of bats and avoid rabies exposure following some positive testing for rabies.

DHHS said in a press release that 15 animals have tested positive for rabies so far this year — 12 bats and three skunks. This compares to last year’s total of 22 cases that included 17 bats, two skunks, a cat, a horse and a bovine.

In addition to bats and skunks, other wildlife such as foxes, coyotes and raccoons can have rabies and transmit it to people. Rabies is caused by a virus that affects the nervous system and is transmitted by the bite of an infected animal or if saliva from a rabid animal gets directly into an open wound or a person’s eyes, nose or mouth.

Rabies is generally fatal without preventive treatment.

Help prevent the spread of rabies by following these tips:

— Be a responsible animal owner. Keep vaccinations up to date for all dogs, cats, ferrets and other animals you own.

— Seek immediate veterinary assistance for a pet if it’s bitten by a wild animal or exposed to a bat.

— Call a local animal control agency about removing stray animals in the neighborhood.

— Do not touch, feed, or unintentionally attract wild animals with open garbage cans or litter.

— Never adopt wild animals or bring them into the home. Do not try to nurse sick, wild animals to health. Call animal control or an animal rescue agency for assistance.

— Teach children never to handle unfamiliar animals, wild or domestic, even if they appear friendly. “Love your own, leave other animals alone” is a good principle for children to reduce the risk of contact with rabid animals.

— Maintain homes and other buildings so bats can’t get inside.

— If a bat is in a house, don’t let it outside before consulting animal control or public health officials.

If an individual comes in contact with a bat, they are urged to do the following:

— If you have been bitten or wake up and find a bat in your room, try to safely capture the bat and have it tested. The same precautions should be used if you see a bat in a room with an unattended child.

— If you or a family member has been in close proximity to, had direct contact with, or been bitten by a bat, consult a doctor or local health department for assistance to determine if you might have been exposed to rabies and need preventive treatment.

— People might know when they’ve been bitten by a bat, but its small teeth can make a bite mark difficult to find. It’s better to be safe than sorry. Try to safely capture the bat or call animal control and have the bat tested.

No human cases of rabies have occurred among Nebraskans since the 1920s.

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