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Bat intrusions disrupt UI community

BY CASSIDY RILEY | SEPTEMBER 24, 2012 6:30 AM

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Four University of Iowa campus buildings have been treated for bat infestation, and half a dozen students have sought medical attention for bat exposure since the start of the school year, but officials say this is not out of the ordinary.

Between Aug. 23 and Sept. 7, buildings that had bat “break-ins” include the Afro-American Culture Center, the Rainbow Daycare Center, the Sprout House, and a UI-owned house for student and staff residence. All four facilities were treated by Iowa City Critter Control and are located on Melrose Avenue.

Owner of Iowa City Critter Control Rick Miller said bats easily find their way into buildings because the hole only has to be a minimum of half an inch big. Bats can fit inside small holes in houses and buildings, find their way into attics and walls, and eventually escape into the house.

“Anything that will lead into the soffit will lead into the attic,” Miller said. “If you’ve got one bat that gets into the house, you’ve probably got more bats in the house living.”

Miller said bats will often have babies in the attic of a house or building and in the months of July through September, often referred to as bat season, bats will migrate through the walls and find ways into the house.

“Bats can live in a house for years, and people never know it,” Miller said.

Therefore, when Critter Control is called to take care of one bat inside a building or a house, they will also do a full inspection of the place to find any holes on the outside of the building. A check-valve is put in place that allows the bats out of a hole but not back in, and then the hole is sealed up.

While Critter control takes care of bats that get into buildings, UI Student Health takes care of the aftermath.

Lisa James, the service’s associate director for clinical operations, said Student Health has seen between six and seven students for exposure to bats this semester. While it is not an unusual number for the year, it is still something to take seriously, because although catching rabies from bats in not terribly common, 11 rabid bats have been found in Iowa this year and it is always possible.

“Even if you do not think you were bitten, if you wake up with a bat in your bedroom, for example, it is difficult to be absolutely sure it did not bite you,” James said. “Bat bites can be impossible to detect.”

Doug Beardsley, the director of Johnson County Public Health, said the vaccination process after exposure to bats includes four injections over the course of 14 days. To avoid this, he encourages people to carefully attempt to catch intruding bats, either before or after killing them, and have the bat sent to a lab for testing. If the bat does not have rabies, no vaccination is necessary.

He stressed the importance of being very careful in catching a bat in order to avoid being bitten.

“You certainly want to make sure people are separated from it,” Beardsley said. “You don’t want to handle it with your bare hands.”

There have yet to be any reports of bats getting into residence halls this semester, but one UI official says hall staff is prepared.

“We typically have a few bats in the halls each semester,” said Gregory Thompson, assistant director of Residence Life. “Our typical protocol is that our staff works to contain the bat and take it outside for release. Occasionally we need to call in [emergency maintenance] for assistance in catching trickier bats.”


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