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Wild rabid bat found at Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo

Infected animals such as bats transfer rabies via saliva. (Source: KFVS)
Infected animals such as bats transfer rabies via saliva. (Source: KFVS)
Published: Jul. 9, 2021 at 6:35 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Dozens of people who spent the night at Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium during a series of camps last weekend are due for a round of rabies shots after a potential exposure at recent overnight events.

“On Sunday, July 4, one guest reported to the campout leader that she awoke and noticed a wild bat near her head,” Friday’s release from the zoo states.

No scratches or bite marks were found on the female, but zoo workers rounded up and seven wild bats from inside the Scott Aquarium, where a series of overnight campouts was held over the weekend.

The bats were sent for rabies testing to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Veterinary Diagnostic Center, and the Douglas County Health Department was notified about the potential exposure.

The zoo found out late Wednesday that one of the bats tested positive for rabies, according to the release.

As a result, the 186 overnight guests and some zoo employees who were present for the overnight events on June 29-30 and July 2-3 were sent a letter notifying them of their potential exposure to rabies and recommending, based on CDC guidelines, that they receive rabies shots.

“Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium is offering these guests refunds for their event and providing information on how to receive the postexposure prophylaxis at the Zoo’s expense,” the release states.

Zoo crews also spent the past few days looking for breach or access points and any evidence of long-term bat roosting.

Dr. Sarah Woodhouse, Director of Animal Health at the zoo, said the bats were likely “little brown bats,” which is a species common in Nebraska.

“To be clear, this was a wild bat that made its way into the aquarium, and not a bat from the zoo’s collection,” the zoo release states.

The zoo is planning to continue their overnight campouts at other zoo facilities until they’re certain the bats have been removed, the access point has been fixed, and there have been “a full week of overnight observations with no bats present.”

Henry Doorly officials said those who have visited the zoo during normal business hours did not need to be concerned about any potential exposure, but noted that rabies infections are common in wild bats.

“We want to assure our guests who have visited the Aquarium during the day that there is no need to be concerned about the rabid bat. Bats are nocturnal and therefore not active — or awake — during the Zoo’s normal operating hours,” Dr. Woodhouse said in the release.

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