As spring turns to summer, health officials are reminding residents to keep themselves, their families, and their pets safe from rabies.

With the warmer weather comes additional opportunity for outdoor activity, and thus an increased chance of wildlife encounters. The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services reports that bats and skunks are the most common carriers of the rabies virus, which can be transmitted through the bite or scratch of an infected mammal. Last year, there were 79 reported cases of rabies in Michigan, with 77 coming from bats. Rabies is a deadly viral disease that has no cure, but post-exposure treatment can be given to people who have been exposed to a potentially rabid animal.

The state health department’s Bureau of Laboratories has ramped up testing for the disease, and through last week, has discovered rabies in 5 bats and 2 skunks, out of 928 total animals tested. To help keep oneself safe, they recommend avoiding contact with wildlife and not keeping wild animals as pets. Also, avoid trying to rehabilitate wildlife, and if you encounter an animal that appears to be sick, call the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. It is possible that a wild animal is carrying rabies without looking sick.

If bitten or scratched, seek immediate medical attention and contact the Livingston County Health Department. If you find a bat in your home and can safely confine and collect it, contact the health department to determine if it should be tested. Those unable, or not wishing to collect the bat themselves should contact a wildlife removal service to do so.

The health department also advises homeowners to protect their pets from rabies. This can be done most easily by vaccination. Even indoor house cats that never go outside should be vaccinated, as bats have a way of getting into homes. Even if a pet is vaccinated, additional actions may still need to be taken to avoid them becoming infected if they’ve encountered a wild animal. If it’s possible to safely confine and capture the wild animal, it can be tested to determine if treatment is needed, for humans or pets.

For more information on this deadly disease and how to prevent it, visit (MK)