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Rabid bat bites Moorpark man

A rabid bat bit a Moorpark man and, apparently, his dog. Steve Spence is now taking vaccinations, and his dog and house are under quarantine.

July 22, 2011|By Sam Quinones, Los Angeles Times
  • Steve Spence and his girlfriend, Miriam Quintero, in the backyard at his Moorpark home, where he estimates that more than 200 bats are spending the summer under the Spanish tile roof.
Steve Spence and his girlfriend, Miriam Quintero, in the backyard at his… (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times )

Steve Spence knew he was done for when he took the trash out — barefoot — to the curb of his Moorpark home Sunday night.

He looked down, and on his foot was a furry bat with black wings. It was exactly like the hundreds that migrate to his neighborhood, and especially his house, every spring and leave every August.

He shook the bat off. Then Spence, 54, looked closer, and on his foot was a red bite mark.

"I immediately thought 'I'm screwed,'" said Spence, a case manager for a nonprofit that serves the homeless and mentally ill.

The bat was rabid and had infected Spence. His house is now under quarantine by the Ventura County Department of Public Health. He's taking vaccinations. And it turns out that his dog, Pumba, an American bulldog, was bitten too, though Spence isn't sure when or how.

"I'm the one human in the county who they're reporting was bitten by a rabid bat," he said. "My dog's the only dog in the whole county who's been quarantined."

Ventura and Los Angeles counties have both reported larger than normal numbers of rabid bats this summer.

Twelve have been found so far this year scattered throughout Los Angeles County. In typical years, eight to 10 rabid bats are found, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health said.

In Ventura County, the rabid bats have been concentrated in Spence's neighborhood near Moorpark College.

"In a typical year, all Ventura County might have seven or eight [rabid] bats," said John Brand, an analyst in the Moorpark city manager's office. "Now we've collected 10 in a 60-day period in one neighborhood. One house is the most suspect."

That would be Spence's.

Bats began showing up there about seven years ago, he figures.

He estimates more than 200 bats live in the ample spaces under his Spanish tile roof and feed on insects in a creek bed on the south side of the 118 Freeway — about a thousand feet from Spence's house, as the bat flies.

Five have tested as rabid this summer, he said.

Spence believes they're Mexican free-tailed bats, which migrate north from Mexico in the spring, then back at the end of summer.

"Apparently one bat can eat 6,000 insects a night," he said. "They are a protected species. If you talk to the bat people, we would be up to our knees in insects if it wasn't for the bats."

The city will be sending a bat exterminator to Spence's house Friday, or Monday, to capture the furry flying mammals, Brand said.

Not soon enough, apparently, for Spence.

"I can't even go into my yard without searching ahead of time for bats," he said. "I'm afraid to open my windows."

And, he said, "people are calling me Batman."

sam.quinones@latimes.com

Times photographer Al Seib contributed to this report.

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