As the fall season moves in, it's important for folks to keep an eye out for the season's winged nighttime purveyors.

Bats do have a season, and Saskatchewan is in the middle of its bat season. This year especially is seeing an explosion in the bat population all over the province.

The issue isn't so much that there is a large number of bats roosting in barns and attics, but the fact that they present an increased risk for exposure to rabies.

Dr. David Torr, Medical Health Officer for southwestern Saskatchewan, explained why they are trying to raise awareness of the risk bats can present.

"There have been a number of encounters with human beings [and bats]," said Torr. "Particularly people going back to their cabins or finding them in sheds, or just coming into their houses and homes. The concern then is rabies in relation to the bats when people make contact."

Rabies is a disease that affects the central nervous system, eventually causing the disease to take root in the brain, inevitably leading to death if not treated immediately. It is 100 per cent fatal if not treated quickly.

The disease is most famously associated with rabid dogs, coyotes, and other Canidae species. But what people may not know is that they can contract rabies from various mammals, like foxes, skunks, raccoons, and of course, bats.

Dr. David TorrDr. David Torr, Medical Health Officer for the Southwest. (photo courtesy of the Saskatchewan Health Authority.
Dr. David Torr, Medical Health Officer for southwestern Saskatchewan. (photo courtesy of the Saskatchewan Health Authority.

"Usually it's through a bite from the bat that you'll get [contract] rabies," said Torr. "The bat will carry the virus in its saliva and that's the most common way that you can get it."

In order to avoid exposure, it's best to not enter a structure known to contain bats. Calling animal control, or a conservation officer, to come and provide assistance is usually the best option.

If someone is exposed to a bat bite, they need to contact an emergency room, and get tested for the virus. Once results are in, and if they come back as positive for rabies, a vaccine is administered via a treatment called 'post-exposure prophylaxis'.

"Rabies is our [pressing] concern and like I said, rabies is literally 100 per cent fatal, so that's where we really have a concern," stressed Torr. "The other thing is that in Saskatchewan we do have rabies still existent and we find it mostly in bats, skunks, and sometimes other animals. From those, it can be transferred to even domestic animals like cats and dogs, especially on farms."

If you find that an animal, be it a cat or dog, pig or cow, appears to have been bitten by a bat, skunk, or other mammalian, it's best to call a vet and have a test administered. Rabies is fatal not only in humans, but in any animal host.

"Consult with the vet and they will guide you on how to observe your animal for any abnormal behavior over the next few weeks," said Torr.

Saskatchewan has eight native bat species. Those include the Western Small-Footed Bat, the Silver-Haired Bat, the Red Bat, Northern Long-Eared Myotis, the Long-Eared Bat, the Little Brown Bat, the Hoary Bat, and the Big Brown Bat. All are capable of carrying the disease, and should be handled with care.

The Government of Canada has had 1,413 cases of rabies samples submitted in 2022 so far, with 136 samples in Saskatchewan. Of those 136 samples, four were confirmed to have been found in bats.