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Rabid bat found at Zoo Safari Park; authorities seek at least one visitor with possible exposure

A brown bat flies with a beetle in its mouth in this undated file photo.
(Associated Press file photo)

The bat was spotted flying around an unidentified woman, and possibly others, Sunday morning at Mombasa Cooker in the Nairobi Village area

At least one woman, and possibly other visitors, may have been exposed to a rabid bat late Sunday morning at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park near Escondido, according to county health officials.

The County of San Diego Health and Human Services Agency is asking for the public’s help to identify the park visitor who may have been exposed. Witnesses spotted the bat flying around her at 11:30 a.m. Sunday at the Mombasa Cooker, a restaurant in an area of the park known as Nairobi Village, on the south side of the lagoon.

A Safari Park map shows Mombasa Cooker in Nairobi Village, where a rabid bat was seen flying around a woman Sunday morning.
A map of the Safari Park shows the Mombasa Cooker in the Nairobi Village, where a rabid bat was seen flying around a woman Sunday morning.
(Courtesy of San Diego Zoo Safari Park)

The bat — which was not one of the Safari Park’s animals — was caught later by a park employee and turned over to county health officials, who determined it was infected with rabies.

The woman whom the bat was seen flying around, and another person who may also have had direct contact with the rabid animal, left without providing contact information.

Health officials said park visitors who had no physical contact with the bat are not at risk for rabies, a viral disease that is most often transmitted through the bite of a rabid animal. Though rare, transmission can also occur if the saliva from a rabid animal comes in contact with a person’s eyes, nose, mouth or open wound.

“We are concerned about the health of this woman and any park patrons who were in direct contact with the bat,” Eric McDonald, medical director of the county Epidemiology and Immunization Services branch, said in a news release. “We want to make sure they were not potentially exposed to this deadly disease.”

Symptoms of rabies in people can take weeks to months to develop, but if and when the symptoms do develop, rabies is almost always fatal, according to health officials.

Prompt post-exposure treatment following exposure to the virus will prevent the disease, according to the county health agency.

Health officials said this is the fifth rabid bat detected in San Diego County in 2020. A rabid bat was found dead at the Zoo Safari Park in 2015, and live rabid bats were detected at the park in September 2016 and April 2017.

Health officials are seeking immediate interviews with anyone who may have come in contact with the bat Sunday to determine if they were potentially exposed to rabies. Anyone who knows the identity of the woman who may have been exposed, or anyone who was at the park and believes they were potentially exposed to the bat, is urged to immediately call the County of San Diego Health and Human Services Agency at (619) 692-8499.


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