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Posted: Wed, 16 Oct 2013 08:49 CDT
Category: Infectious Disease Prevention

Bats, Bugs and Barf – Public Health Can be Scary

Halloween is coming soon. For children, it’s an opportunity to put on a costume and beg for candy. Some adults will attend costume parties, and both teenagers and adults will visit ‘haunted’ house attractions to give themselves a scare. Halloween is a once-a-year event that focuses on the frightful; in public health, epidemiologists (experts who investigate the causes of disease and other public health problems to prevent them from spreading or happening again) deal with scary situations every day. For example:

· Bats - As expected this time of year, the Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) is receiving an increasing number of bat-related rabies calls. So far in 2013, six rabid bats have been reported to IDPH. There have been no human rabies cases.

Bat bites can be visibly undetectable and therefore, if you have any physical contact with a bat, you should wash the exposed area thoroughly with soap and water, and seek medical care. If possible, the bat should be captured and tested for rabies. Additionally, if a bat is found in the same room as an unattended child, a sleeping person, or anyone who cannot reliably communicate what happened, this is considered a potential bat exposure and medical attention should be sought. For more information on rabies and what to do if you encounter a bat, visit

· Bugs - West Nile virus and Lyme disease are two diseases found in Iowa that are transmitted by bugs. West Nile virus is carried by infected mosquitoes and Lyme disease is carried by infected ticks. Both diseases can be prevented with the proper use of insect repellant. So far in 2013, there have been 44 cases of human West Nile virus and 190 cases of Lyme disease; cases of both West Nile virus and Lyme disease can occur as late as November. To learn more about Lyme disease, visit and for information on West Nile virus, see

· Barf - yes, we’re talking about vomiting. There are lots of organisms that can cause vomiting and diarrhea when consumed in contaminated food, water, or beverages. Foodborne illness can also be spread person-to-person, as well as from contact with animals. Each week, epidemiologists receive reports of foodborne illness and they investigate to find the source so others don’t become ill. A good example of the foodborne illness investigations performed by public health is the recent cyclospora outbreak, which was found to be linked to a bagged salad mixture. To learn more about foodborne illness, visit

For more information about how IDPH works with local, state and national partners to protect the public health, visit

Contact Information: Polly Carver-Kimm at (515) 281-6693

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