Health officials in Vancouver are warning people to avoid touching or picking up bats they might find, because of the risk of catching rabies, after one tested positive for the rare disease in Kitsilano.

While rabies is uncommon, in B.C five bats have already tested positive for the disease this year, including the one found on Vancouver's West Side.

Reka Gustafson with the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority says every week at least one person has to be tested for rabies after coming in contact with a bat.

She warns you don't have to bitten by the animals to get infected and anyone who touches one needs to get tested for rabies.

"The reason we're reminding people about this is because exposure to bats is an event that requires medical follow up."

"If a bat is infected with rabies it can transmit the disease to humans when its saliva comes into contact with a person’s mucous membranes — eyes, nose, mouth — or through a break in the skin."

People are advised never to pick up an injured bat they might find, says Randy Ash, senior environmental health officer.

“We hear of people finding an injured or sick bat and trying to nurse it back to health. A bat acting unusually may be more likely to be infected with rabies, so this practice is risky."

"The majority of human contact with bats happens between July and September when bats are most active and juveniles are weaned. So we are taking this opportunity to remind everyone to avoid contact with bats.”

In 2003 one person in the province died of rabies after coming in contact with a bat.

They are the only animals in B.C. that carry the disease, but officials don't know why.

Overall, four to eight per cent of bats sent for testing from B.C. are found to carry rabies, although it is estimated the incidence of rabies among bats in the wild is lower, say officials.

If you touch a bat:

People who have been bitten or scratched by a bat (or other possibly rabid animal), or who have handled a bat should immediately do the following:

  • Thoroughly wash the bite or scratch with soap and water, using lots of water to flush the wound.
  • In the case of handling a bat, wash hands thoroughly.
  • Seek medical attention right away.
  • If the bat is still alive and available, have a wildlife expert capture it and contact VCH at 604-675-3900 for testing. If the bat is dead, simply contact VCH.