Feds say live, dead bats reported at Madison airportFederal health officials don't know yet whether a bat that made its way onto a jet earlier this month had rabies, but new reports of dead bats at the Wisconsin airport where the flight originated have added another level of caution.
By: Dinesh Ramde, Associated Press, Superior Telegram
MILWAUKEE (AP) — Federal health officials don't know yet whether a bat that made its way onto a jet earlier this month had rabies, but new reports of dead bats at the Wisconsin airport where the flight originated have added another level of caution.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the dead bats at the airport in Madison raise concerns because bats generally don't die in open areas unless they're sick or injured. Baggage handlers reported the bats to investigators following the Aug. 5 Delta flight 5121 that had the live bat on it.
Officials had worried that passengers may have been exposed to rabies. The CDC said the airport workers reported seeing live bats, too, which led officials to also wonder whether bats had established a colony at the airport.
The Delta flight was bound for Atlanta but returned to Madison after the winged intruder emerged. A YouTube video showed the bat flitting around the plane's cabin. Passengers trapped the animal in a jet bathroom, but when the plane landed the animal eventually escaped.
Health officials have tried to track down all 50 passengers to ask about possible exposure. CDC spokeswoman Danielle Buttke said Wednesday that 43 passengers have been reached, and none had a level of contact with the bat that would require a rabies vaccination as a precautionary measure.
The CDC is urging the remaining passengers to call 1-866-613-2683.
After the incident, airline officials interviewed baggage handlers who reported seeing a number of dead bats at the Madison airport on occasion, Buttke said. It's not clear how many dead bats were spotted or over what time frame.
Wisconsin authorities, including a spokesman for the airport and an official with the state Department of Health Services, said they hadn't received any reports of bat colonies or dead bats at the airport.
Doug Voegeli, director of environmental health for the Department of Public Health in Madison and Dane County, noted that bats are common in the area. Of the dozens that are trapped or found dead each year, one or two may test positive for rabies, he added.
Voegeli speculated that the stowaway bat may have made its way onto the plane in search of a cool hideout.
"Often when it's hot out, they'll try to find a place to cool down," he said. "That jet bridge, if there's (air conditioned air) running through it, a bat could certainly hang out in there."
Although investigators will try to determine whether a bat colony has settled at the airport, one CDC official predicts that won't be the case. Dr. Charles Rupprecht, chief of the agency's rabies program, said bats generally prefer quieter areas where they're less likely to be disturbed.
Even if bats have taken up residence, he said there's a good chance they're mothers who gathered in a short-term "maternity colony" to give birth, and will head out on their own when the Wisconsin weather turns chillier. That would keep officials from having to relocate or eradicate the colony.
Buttke said officials weren't trying to alarm passengers with reports of rabid bats. She noted that bats eat a lot of insects and play an important role in the ecosystem.
"Of course, having bats that can end up on a plane is a concern," she said. "It's probably not that pleasant for the bat or the passengers."