After five rabid bats were found in Los Angeles and Orange counties this month, health officials issued public reminders Friday that people and pets should avoid contact with all wild animals.
One rabid bat was found in a Mid-Wilshire apartment building and two others were found in northern Los Angeles County in the Santa Clarita area, officials said.
Two rabid bats were discovered in Irvine last week, making a total of four found in Orange County so far this year, officials said. Last year, seven were found in the county.
"We're not sure where this is going, but we want to be sure the public is prepared and aware of the situation," said Pat Markley, spokeswoman for the Orange County Health Agency.
Officials from both counties said there is no increasing trend in rabies cases, but they want to remind people to take precautions.
The disease is caused by a virus that infects the brain. Although all species of mammals are susceptible, wild animals accounted for nearly 92% of reported cases of rabies in 1999, the latest year full year for which figures are available from the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.
Raccoons are the most frequently reported rabid wildlife species, the CDC said, accounting for 40% of animal cases in 1999; followed by skunks (29%), bats (14%), foxes (5%), and other wild animals, including rodents (0.6%).
Rabies is commonly transmitted through bites and virus-containing saliva of infected animals, the CDC said.
Markley said bats pose a particular danger in suburban areas for dogs or cats that are allowed to roam and might encounter a sick bat on the ground. If the pet plays with or eats a rabid bat, it can become infected.
People usually know when they have been bitten by a bat, Markley said, but because the animals have such tiny teeth, a skin puncture might not be obvious.
Officials offered this advice to prevent rabies:
* Make sure dogs and cats are vaccinated.
* Don't sleep with windows or doors open.
* If a bat gets into your home, seal off the area immediately and call animal control.
* Do not touch any wild animal.
* If you are bitten, wash the wound immediately with soap and water and call a doctor.
* Report all animal bites to authorities.