A bat was found in Elkview Middle School last week, in a boiler room away from students, according to the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department.
Kanawha County school system Maintenance Executive Director Terry Hollandsworth wrote in an email that the school system has a team checking the building every morning.
The only other information Hollandsworth provided was that the school system hired someone from “Wildlife Removal Services to implement a plan. He implemented his plan to seal off the roof area. He has come back on a couple of occasions to seal up some missed spots.”
Leaders of the school didn’t return phone calls.
Stan Mills, the health department’s environmental health director, said he got an email from Hollandsworth saying that a couple of bats were captured in Elkview Middle’s gym, which Herbert Hoover High also uses. Mills said health department employees didn’t see any there.
Lori Kersey, the health department’s public information officer, said the department got that information about two weeks ago.
Mills said that, without proof of any sort of bat infestation, he’s more concerned that spraying to eliminate the bats would have more of a negative effect on kids than the bats themselves. He said he didn’t know whether they were protected species.
“It doesn’t seem to be a great concern,” Mills said of the bats, “and I wouldn’t want parents to get excited about something that’s not really a health risk.”
A 2018 report from the state Office of Epidemiology and Prevention Services said that “in West Virginia, the most commonly found strain of rabies is raccoon strain; bat strain rabies is also found and is widespread across the state.”
The report also said there hasn’t been a human case of rabies reported in West Virginia since 1994.
Once someone begins to exhibit rabies symptoms, they nearly always die, it said.
Of the 77 bats submitted to the state Department of Health and Human Resources for rabies testing in 2017, one tested positive for rabies. In 2018, 93 were submitted, and two tested positive.
About 90 percent of all animals submitted for testing were because of either human exposure to a potentially rabid animal, domesticated animal exposure or odd behavior.
Regarding what counts as exposure, Mills said it “has to be a closer relationship than finding two bats in a gymnasium.” He said a bite or scratch would rise to exposure level.
You’d have to kill a bat to check it for rabies, Mills said.
“You’d hate to kill a beneficial animal,” he said, noting they eat insects.
Teresa Callen, who has grandchildren at Elkview Middle, said she saw four to five bats in the gym last school year during volleyball games. She said those games were at least temporarily canceled.
“There were people swatting at them,” she said.
Mills also said some mice were caught in traps in the school’s ceiling over the weekend. Hollandsworth said Orkin has been working on catching mice there.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says mice haven’t been known to transmit rabies.