Bats, ticks, mosquitoes, and other animals can all carry diseases that humans can get from a bite. Learn how to prevent bites and what to do if you are bitten below.
Bats, Animal Bites, and Rabies
Bats are the animals most often found to be rabid in Michigan and are the most common way that people in Michigan and the United States come in contact with rabies. Rabies can infect other mammals such as dogs, cats, foxes, coyotes, woodchucks, skunks and raccoons, which can also give rabies to humans. Rabies is a fatal disease once symptoms develop. An estimated 40,000 people in the U.S. receive rabies post-exposure treatment each year.
If you think you have been bitten an animal or have been in contact with, exposed to, or bitten by a bat, please contact BEDHD. See more information below for bats.
Barry and Eaton counties: (517) 541-2641
If a bat who bites or scratches a human can be caught and tested for rabies, rabies post-exposure treatment might be avoided. If the bat tests negative for rabies, no treatment is necessary. However, in many human cases of rabies caused by bats, there was no history of a bite from a bat. Bats have very small teeth, and a bite from a bat may not be felt. Any direct contact with a bat means a possible exposure to rabies. Other possible exposures include finding a bat in the same room as a person who may not be aware that contact has occurred, such as a sleeping person, a child, or someone who is mentally disabled or intoxicated.
If you think you or your family may have been exposed to a bat, please DO NOT LET THE BAT GO. Safely capture the bat for rabies testing and immediately contact BEDHD. If the bat is unavailable for testing, treatment will be recommended to prevent rabies. If the bat is tested and does not have rabies, treatment is not needed.
How to Catch a Bat
Follow these instructions to make sure that collection of a bat is done the right way to avoid contact with the bat:
- Gather these supplies: Leather work gloves, a small box or coffee can, a piece of cardboard, and tape.
- Once the bat lands, wearing gloves, approach slowly and place the box or can over it.
- Slide the piece of cardboard under the container, trapping the bat inside. Securely tape the cardboard to the container.
- If you wish to keep the bat alive, punch holes (no larger than ¼ inch in diameter) in the container for the bat to breathe. It is important not to damage the bat as this can interfere with the lab testing.
- Contact BEDHD to discuss whether the bat needs to be tested for rabies and to receive instructions on what steps to take next.
- Seek medical attention for any bite or scratch.
It is also important to protect your pets against rabies. The best way to do this is to have your dogs, cats and ferrets vaccinated against rabies by your veterinarian and to prevent your pets from coming into contact with wild animals while outside. If you think your pet might have been bitten or scratched by a wild animal such as a bat, raccoon or skunk, please contact your veterinarian for instructions on how to prevent rabies.
Lyme disease is an illness caused by a spirochete bacterium called Borrelia burgdorferi. It is transmitted to people and animals by the bite of an infected Black Legged Deer Tick (tick identification chart).
Symptoms of Lyme Disease
- Muscle and joint pain
- Characteristic skin rash
- Arthritis (usually one or more large joint, especially the knees)
- Nervous system abnormalities that can include nerve paralysis (facial muscles) and meningitis
- Rarely, irregularities of the heart rhythm may occur.
Patients and domestic animals treated in the early stages of Lyme disease with a course of antibiotics usually recover rapidly and completely. If improperly diagnosed, or untreated, the disease can cause long-term health problems.
How do I prevent Lyme disease and tick bites?
- Wear enclosed shoes and light-colored clothing, which makes ticks easier to find for removal.
- Tuck pants into socks and wear long-sleeved shirts.
- Apply insect/tick repellent containing DEET and treat clothes with permethrin. Be sure to follow product label for proper use.
- Walk in the center of trails to avoid contact with overgrown grass and brush at trail edges.
After coming indoors:
- Check your clothing and pets for ticks. Ticks can be carried into the house on clothing and pets and then attach to a person later, so carefully examine pets, coats, and packs.
- Tumble dry clothes in a dryer on high heat for 10 minutes to kill ticks on dry clothing after you come indoors. (If the clothes are damp, additional time may be needed.) If the clothes require washing first, hot water is recommended. Cold and medium temperature water will not kill ticks effectively.
- Search your (and your child's) entire body for ticks. Use a hand-held or full-length mirror to view all parts of your body. Check these parts of your body and your child’s body for ticks:
- Under the arms
- In and around the ears
- Inside belly button
- Back of the knees
- In and around the hair
- Between the legs
- Around the waist
- Between toes and fingers
- Shower soon after being outdoors. Showering within two hours of coming indoors has been shown to reduce your risk of getting Lyme disease. Showering may help wash off unattached ticks, and it is a good opportunity to do a tick check.
Ticks can attach to any part of the human body, but prefer body creases and areas with hair, such as the groin, armpits, sock line and scalp.
Tick removal and bite treatment
- Using fine-tipped tweezers, grasp the tick by the head as close to the skin as possible then gently, but firmly, pull the tick straight out. Do not: twist or jerk the tick, apply petroleum jelly, a hot match, or other irritant. This can lead to infection because the tick’s mouth parts may remain embedded, or you may be burned. Use your fingernails and tissue paper if tweezers are not available.
- Immediately wash the bite area and your hands with soap and water then apply an antiseptic to the bite wound.
- If in doubt of tick identification, place the tick in a small vial containing a damp piece of tissue and submit it to BEDHD for examination.
Tick Identification and Testing
Please note: the state no longer offers testing of ticks.
Ticks can be submitted for identification here: https://www.michigan.gov/emergingdiseases/ticks
The Tick Bite Bot is an interactive tool that will assist individuals on removing attached ticks and determining when to seek health care, if appropriate, after a tick bite. Utilize this CDC resource here: Tick Bite Bot | Lyme Disease | CDC
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Lyme disease
- Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) on Lyme disease
Michigan has several illnesses that are spread to humans from mosquitoes. Some of these illnesses, such as West Nile Virus (WNV) and Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) can be serious. It is important to consider ways to prevent being bitten by a mosquito:
How can I prevent mosquito-borne illness?
- Prevention is best done by minimizing exposure to mosquitoes.
- Eliminate areas of standing, stagnant water.
- Install and maintain screens on windows and doors.
- Consider minimizing the amount of time you spend outdoors from dusk to dawn.
- If you are going to be outdoors during peak mosquito times, wear protective clothing such as long pants and long sleeve shirts.
- Spray exposed skin and clothing with repellents containing DEET or permethrin (always read and follow label directions)
West Nile Virus
West Nile Virus (WNV) is a mosquito borne virus that can cause encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) or Meningitis (inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord). The virus first appeared in the United States in 1999 in New York City. It has since made its way westward and now is found in virtually the entire country.
The virus is transmitted through the bites of infected mosquitoes. WNV is not transmitted by person to person contact such as kissing, touching or caring for someone who is infected. The serious form of the disease is extremely rare. People over 50, young children and those with weakened immune systems are more at risk than others.
Most people who are infected with WNV will not develop any symptoms. A small minority of people may become ill 3 to 15 days after being bitten by an infected mosquito. The symptoms may include fever, headache, body aches, and sometimes skin rash and / or swollen glands.
On rare occasions, WNV infection may result in encephalitis. Encephalitis is an inflammation of the brain that may be marked by headache, high fever, stiff neck, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness, and paralysis. A small number of cases have been fatal.
What do I do if I find a dead or dying bird?
The testing of dead or dying birds is no longer necessary due to West Nile Virus being present in Michigan.
Dead birds can be safely disposed of by either burying them or placing them in the garbage using a shovel, gloved hand or by turning a plastic bag inside out, grasping the bird and then turning the bag back right side out with the bird inside.
To report a dead bird, visit the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services website.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on West Nile virus
- Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) on West Nile virus
Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) is a mosquito-borne viral infection that can affect both horses and humans. The health concern with EEE is that it often leads to acute encephalitis (swelling of the brain), which can be fatal. The case fatality rate is especially high in children. Survival from encephalitis can often lead to permanent mental and/or physical disorders.
EEE is passed on from one host carrier to another through a mosquito bite. The main host carriers are birds, horses, and humans, with horses and humans being the dead end host. Human cases involving encephalitis often begin with the sudden onset of headache, high fever, chills, and vomiting. The illness may then progress into disorientation, seizures, or coma.
Due to the public health concerns associated EEE, both the Michigan Department of Community Health and the Local County Health Department where a EEE case is suspected to have come from, will issue a public health alert along with education on what signs to look for with the infection, as well as how to minimize the threat.