What is Rabies and How is it Spread?

Rabies is a deadly but preventable disease. Rabies can spread to people and pets through animal bites and scratches. The rabies virus infects the central nervous system of mammals, ultimately causing disease in the brain and death. Bats, racoons, and skunks are the most common animals associated with rabies, however, bats are the animals most found with rabies in Michigan.  Because of this, it is extremely important to take proper precautions if you find a bat in your home.

Report a Bite or Exposure

Animal bites can cause serious injury and infection, including rabies. Rabies is deadly in humans. All animal bites and exposures to bats should be reported to the Livingston County Health Department. When a patient presents with a possible rabies exposure, LCHD must contact the patient and follow-up. All animal bites are required to be reported to the local health department within 24 hours per the Public Health Code.


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Bat Exposure

Individuals that have been bitten or scratched should be assessed for the risk of rabies. Any direct contact with a bat should be considered a possible exposure to rabies. Other possible exposures can include finding a bat in the same room as a person who may not be aware that the contact has occurred, such as a sleeping person, a child, or someone who is mentally impaired or intoxicated.

If someone has been bitten or scratched, do not let the bat go. Safely capture the bat for rabies testing and immediately contact the Livingston County Health Department (LCHD) at 517-552-6882.

Capturing a Bat in Your Home

Use precautions to capture the bat safely. Bat bites or scratches can be small and are not always noticed. It is critical to have a bat tested for rabies if there is any chance that someone may have been exposed.

If the bat dies, place it in a container and keep it in the fridge. Do not place the bat in the freezer as freezing the bat may damage the brain and make it ineligible for testing.

When Should I Capture a Bat For Testing?

A bat should be captured for testing when:

  • A bat was in a room with a sleeping person 
  • A bat was in a room with an unattended child, mentally impaired person, or an intoxicated person
  • A human had contact with a bat
  • A pet had contact with a bat

Remember – do not let a bat go if someone has been exposed! Captured bats can be sent in for rabies testing.

When Should I NOT Capture a Bat For Testing?

Only let a bat go if you are absolutely positive that no humans or pets were exposed. For example, you saw the bat fly in an open door, circle the room, and fly out, without landing on or contacting anyone. If the bat had any contact with a human or pet – however minor or brief – do not let the bat go. Capture it and have it tested.

How to Safely Capture a Bat:

  1. Find a Tupperware container or shoebox large enough the bat can fit in. Punch air holes in the top.
  2. Put on leather work gloves. When the bat lands, approach slowly and place the container over the bat. Slide a piece of cardboard under the container to keep the bat inside.
  3. Tape the cardboard to the container to secure the bat inside. Contact LCHD at 517-552-6882 for additional information and guidance about testing


If a bat is captured, contact LCHD for testing guidance.

Animal Bites and Scratches

While most animals that bite will not have rabies, proper precautions and follow-up can limit severe outcomes. Animals like fox, opossum, racoons, and woodchucks have been known to carry rabies. Animals that do not generally carry rabies include: chipmunks, gerbils, gophers, squirrels, guinea pigs, hamsters, moles, shrews, mice, muskrats, voles, rabbits, rats, and prairie dogs.

If you have been bitten, wash the wound with soap and water and seek medical care. Your medical care team may prescribe antibiotics to prevent infection and/or suggest a Tetanus vaccination, they will also assess for rabies.

LCHD investigates bites, scratches, and rabies exposure to ensure rabies disease does not spread.

The Michigan Public Health Code states the biting animal must be quarantined for a 10-day rabies observation and then viewed by an animal shelter or vet. Rabies is rare but possible, and Michigan laws are in place to protect residents. The Livingston County Sheriff’s Office or Animal Control may contact the animal owner for quarantine procedures. If the biting animal cannot be quarantined or tested, rabies PEP may be recommended.


How can I prevent myself from getting rabies?

The best way to protect yourself from getting bitten or scratched by a wild animal is never approach or feed them. Be careful of pets you do not know and if an animal is acting strange.

What if I was bitten by a cat, dog, or ferret?

If you were bitten by a cat, dog, or ferret that appeared healthy at the time you were bitten, it can be confined by its owner for 10 days and observed. No anti-rabies prophylaxis is needed. No person in the United States has ever contracted rabies from a dog, cat or ferret held in quarantine for 10 days.

If a dog, cat, or ferret appeared ill at the time it bit you or becomes ill during the 10 day quarantine, it should be evaluated by a veterinarian for signs of rabies and you should seek medical advice about the need for anti-rabies prophylaxis.

When should I seek medical attention if I was bit?

If you’ve been in contact with any wildlife or unfamiliar animals, particularly if you’ve been bitten or scratched, you should talk with a healthcare or public health professional to determine your risk for rabies or other illnesses. Remember that rabies is a medical urgency but not an emergency. Decisions should not be delayed. See your doctor for attention for any trauma due to an animal attack before considering the need for rabies vaccination.

What symptoms do animals with rabies have?

Be careful of pets you do not know and if an animal is acting strange. Watch out for:

  • General sickness
  • Problems swallowing
  • Excessive drool or saliva
  • Overly aggressive
  • An animal that bites at imaginary objects
  • An animal that is tamer than you would expect
  • An animal that’s having trouble moving or is paralyzed
  • A bat on the ground

If you do come into contact with a rabid animal, rabies is preventable! Getting prompt and appropriate medical care is essential. If you are bitten or scratched, talk to a healthcare provider about whether you need Postexposure prophylaxis (PEP).

Decisions to start PEP will be based on the type of exposure the animal you were exposed to, whether the animal was available for testing, and the laboratory and surveillance information for the area the exposure occurred.

The rabies vaccine is available at LCHD for individuals who are deemed eligible.  


How can I protect my pet from rabies?

Dogs, cats, and ferrets should be vaccinated against rabies by a veterinarian. Pets may get bitten or scratched by a wild animal such as a bat, racoon, or skunk, contact a veterinarian for instructions on how to prevent rabies.

How can I protect myself and my family from rabies while traveling internationally?

Before traveling abroad, consult with your healthcare provider or a travel clinic about the risk of exposure to rabies and how to handle an exposure.

LCHD offers a travel immunization clinic. Appointments for the travel clinic should occur 4-6 weeks before departure.

Is their a time of year that bats are more active?

In Michigan, bats are most active in the summer and begin looking for places to hibernate for the winter in early fall. Autumn is when it is most likely to find a bat in your home, though it could happen year-round.

What is PEP?

Postexposure prophylaxis (PEP) consists of a dose of human rabies immune globulin (HRIG) and rabies vaccine given on the day of the rabies exposure, and then a dose of vaccine given again on days 3, 7, and 14. For people who have never been vaccinated against rabies previously, postexposure prophylaxis (PEP) should always include administration of both HRIG and rabies vaccine. The combination of HRIG and vaccine is recommended for both bite and non-bite exposures, regardless of the interval between exposure and initiation of treatment.

People who have been previously vaccinated or are receiving pre-exposure vaccination for rabies should receive only vaccine.

In the United States, PEP consists of a regimen of one dose of immune globulin and four doses of rabies vaccine over a 14-day period. Rabies immune globulin and the first dose of rabies vaccine should be given by your health care provider as soon as possible after exposure. Current vaccines are relatively painless and are given in your arm like a flu or tetanus vaccine; rabies vaccines are not given in the stomach.

Beyond Rabies: The Benefits of Bats

Bats aren’t all bad and play an important role in controlling insect populations, spreading fruit seeds, reforesting spaces and more! It’s important to take proper precautions with bats in the situations described above where there was a potential bite, but in other scenarios, leave bats be and do not interact or harm them.

Healthcare Providers: 

All bites/exposures are required to be reported to local health departments within 24 hours per Public Health Code. To report: Call LCHD (517-552-6882), Fax LCHD (517-545-9685), or use the online Animal Bite/Exposure Report Form.

Any penetration of the skin by teeth.

  •      – Bites by some animals, such as bats, can be minor/difficult to see.
  •      – The circumstances under which the bite happened are important and help to determine if rabies is a concern from the bite.
  •      – Biting animal must be quarantined for a 10-day rabies observation (domestic animal) or captured and tested for rabies (wild animal).

Contamination of open wounds, abrasions, or mucous membranes.

  •      – Non-bite exposures rarely cause rabies, but such exposures should be evaluated to determine if rabies PEP is necessary.
  •      – Rabies virus is noninfectious once dried or exposed to sunlight.
  •      – Contact such as petting or handling an animal, or contact with other body fluids such as blood, urine, or feces is not a risk.

Any direct contact with a bat, a deeply sleeping person awakens to find a bat in the same room, and/or the bat is found in a room with an unattended child, mentally disabled person, or intoxicated person.

  •      – Bats should be captured for rabies testing: bit.ly/CaptureBats.
  •      – PEP is recommended if rabies cannot be ruled out through testing.

Last Modified April 1, 2024

Livingston County Health Department Logo
Matt Bolang

Matt Bolang
Health Officer


(517) 546-9850


Monday – Friday
8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Closed County Holidays


2300 E Grand River Ave
Suite 102
Howell, MI 48843


(517) 546-6995