File Photo | Photo by Nils Bouillard (via Unsplash)

The state health department is warning residents about the risk of rabies as rabid bats have been identified in Lake and McHenry counties, along with other Illinois counties.

The Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) said Wednesday that the public should be aware of the potential for exposure to rabies from infected animals.

Bats are the most common source of potential infection in Illinois and exposure from bats tends to be more frequent during the summer months, especially in July and August.

The disease can also be found in other wild animals, including raccoons, skunks, foxes and coyotes.

27 rabid bats have been found in 14 Illinois counties so far this year.

There have been five rabid bats each in Kankakee and Lake counties, four in Cook County and three in McHenry County.

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Rabies has also been found in bats in Bureau, Clark, DeKalb, Macon, McLean, Peoria, Rock Island, Sangamon, Wayne and Will counties.

“Rabies is a fatal but preventable disease,” IDPH Director Dr. Sameer Vohra said.

“It is important that Illinois residents know how to prevent rabies exposure to protect themselves and their loved ones. Rabies can be prevented in a number of ways including vaccinating pets, being cautious around wildlife, and seeking medical care immediately after a potential exposure. If exposed, please seek medical attention immediately,” Vohra said.

In May, the McHenry County Department of Health said a family was recommended to undergo treatment after they were possibly exposed to a rabid bat found in their home in Woodstock.

Officials say rabies is a deadly virus that affects the brain and nervous system. People can get rabies from being bitten by an infected animal.

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Rabies can also be contracted when saliva from a rabid animal comes into contact with a person’s eyes, nose, mouth or an open wound.

A bat’s teeth are small so a person who has been bitten by a bat may not know it.

“That’s why it’s important that if you discover a bat in your home, you should avoid killing or releasing it; instead, immediately consult with your local animal control or your local health department to determine appropriate next steps,” the IDPH said.

Preventive treatment, known as PEP, is necessary for those who have been exposed.

Health officials say a bat that is active during the day, found on the ground or is unable to fly is likely to be rabid.

“It’s also recommended to take steps to protect your pets against exposure to rabies,” Dr. Mark Ernst, Illinois State Veterinarian, said.

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“Illinois law requires that all dogs and cats 16 weeks of age and older be vaccinated for rabies and registered with their county. If an animal bites a person or your pet is bitten by another animal, the local animal control must be contacted for quarantine information,” Ernst said.

More information about rabies and how to prevent exposure can be found on the Illinois Department of Public Health website.