Rabid bats on the rise in Los Angeles County

LOS ANGELES Wed Nov 17, 2010 9:49pm EST

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - If the threat of earthquakes, wildfires and mudslides isn't enough to worry Los Angeles residents, public health officials are now warning of an unusually high number of rabid bats.

According to the Department of Public Health, 21 bats with rabies have been found in Los Angeles County this year, more than double the average number of 10.

The county's public health director, Jonathan Fielding, said on Wednesday the reason for the increase is unclear.

"Regardless, it is important that all county residents understand the potential dangers posed to themselves and their pets, as most of these rabid bats have been found in and around homes," he said.

He urged parents to make sure their children know to leave bats and other wildlife alone, and to keep pets away from wildlife.

County officials said one resident who was trying to nurse a sick bat back to health was bitten and had to be treated for rabies.

Fielding said two dogs and a cat were recently found playing with live, rabid bats. If the pets had not been up to date on their rabies vaccinations, their owners may have been forced to euthanize them.

(Editing by Peter Bohan)