Sioux Falls bats test positive for rabies, more cases likely

Published: Jun. 8, 2023 at 9:20 PM CDT
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - Sioux Falls Animal Control is reporting that rabies has been found in three tested bats so far in 2023. A little over a week into June, the number of bats testing positive for rabies is concerning when compared to last year.

In 2022, Sioux Falls only had four bats test positive for rabies during the whole year. Experts believe that we may see an uptick in cases with the start of a busy season.

Rabies has become less common over the years, but it’s still an issue that cannot be taken lightly. Rabies is a deadly disease that can be found in wild animals and transmitted by bite.

Bats are the most common animal that Sioux Falls Animal Control receives calls for, especially in the summer months.

“We have been seeing an influx in the number of calls we’ve gotten for bats in homes, so that is kind of concerning for us for the start of summer,” said Patty Beckman, supervisor for Sioux Falls Animal Control.

Animal Control only sends in an animal for rabies testing when there’s contact or potential contact with a pet or human. The results are given to the resident as soon as it gets back from the lab.

It’s no surprise that bats are also the most common animal that tests positive for rabies in South Dakota. One of the three bats that tested positive for rabies this year was captured in May and the other two were captured this month. Beckman believes that it could be a sign of more to come.

“Last year we had four, so we could expect a couple more positives for the summer, but that is just unknown. It just depends on the animal,” Beckman said.

As a former veterinary technician, Beckman explained just how crucial it is to protect your pet from animals that may have diseases like rabies.

“It is important for people to vaccinate their animals, whether they’re strictly indoors or they go outdoors because bats can get into your house,” Beckman explained. “So if one would come back positive, we would have to quarantine your animal. It’s less of a quarantine if they are up to date with their rabies vaccination.”

Jon Michaels is a dog owner in Sioux Falls. He brings his dog, Gizmo, to the park every day for socialization and exercise. With that comes more chances for his dog to come into contact with an animal that has a disease like rabies. He says they haven’t come across any bats, but there are other animals Gizmo has shown interest in.

“He likes to sit out in the yard and you never know. He’s too young. He still thinks he can catch birds. Getting you shots, yeah, that’s important,” Michaels explained.

Colten Parker with Prairie Bat Services believes that the reason for the increase of bats in living areas this year can be attributed to the long winter and cold spring we just experienced.

We still had snow on the ground and unseasonably cold temperatures in March, when bats usually emerge from hibernation. Parker thinks the cold temperatures led the bats to follow warm air flows down from attics to living areas.

Another theory is that the bats are entering homes in search of food, as insect emergence was also delayed this spring.

“In my experience, if a bat enters a living area it is very possible it came down from the attic. A good general rule of thumb is if a person gets 1 bat in their home 2 consecutive years in a row OR two bats in the living area within the same year, the likelihood there is some kind of roost within the structure is pretty high,” Parker explained.

According to the most recent available data on rabies surveillance in South Dakota, animals from 54 counties were sent in for testing and 13 of those counties reported a positive test for rabies in 2021. Minnehaha, Brookings, Pennington, and Davison counties accounted for over half of the rabies tests in 2021. Nine of the fifteen positive tests were from bats, but bats also accounted for just over 35% of all tests.