State and county health officials are working to assess the potential rabies exposure of dozens of teen girls in Kentucky after church campers saw bats in their cabin earlier this month at a retreat center in Harlan County called Camp Blanton.
There is no confirmation that any of the girls were bitten, said Kelly Giesbrecht, the public-health veterinarian for the Kentucky Department for Public Health, but at least one girl woke up with a bat on her.
Some girls considered at higher risk for potential exposure, as well as several others whose parents were concerned, have started treatment for rabies, said Doug Thoroughman, assistant director of the state Division of Epidemiology and Health Planning.
Bat bites inflict relatively minor injury so it’s hard to tell sometimes if a person has been bitten, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Health officials said the girls involved were between ages 12 and 19 and were from 19 counties in Kentucky. One girl from Indiana also was involved.
Most of the campers were from Fayette, Jessamine, Madison and Oldham counties, Thoroughman said.
They stayed at Camp Blanton between June 5 and June 22, said Dr. Joann Schulte, head of the Louisville Health Department, who has been involved in conference calls on the issue.
There were three sets of campers. They were associated with the same church but from different areas, Giesbrecht said.
Officials said they could not release the list of all counties involved because of a concern over potentially violating health-privacy rules in cases where there were fewer than five girls from one county.
There were a total of 91 people — most of them teen girls but a few adults — who stayed at the camp during the three weeks at issue, but not all of them stayed in the large bunkhouse where girls reported seeing bats.
Health officials said the girls reported seeing bats in the large cabin several times.
A couple of girls swatted at bats. That would represent a higher risk of exposure and the recommendation would be for them to get rabies shots, Giesbrecht said. The same recommendation was given to the girl who woke up with a bat on her, she said.
Health officials obtained names and contact information for all the people who stayed at the camp during the time bats were reported and have contacted about two-thirds of them to assess their exposure risk, Giesbrecht said.
Officials are following up this week with more calls and also will send a letter.
The people who stayed at the camp should contact their local health department, which will do an assessment of their potential risk based on a number of factors.
Girls who slept in a top bunk had greater potential exposure than those in bottom bunks, for instance, Schulte said.
People judged at medium or high risk are advised to talk to a doctor about getting rabies shots, but health officials don’t discourage anyone who was potentially exposed from talking to a doctor or getting shots, Thoroughman said.
Schulte said she understood 25 to 30 campers have started the series of rabies shots.
It has not been confirmed that any bats at the camp were rabid because none were caught.
The Harlan County Health Department recommended to Camp Blanton that the facility cut its week short and close after the third group of campers saw a bat. The camp closed, Giesbrecht said.
No one returned a telephone message left at the camp Wednesday seeking comment.
Giesbrecht said the camp had a wildlife control expert inspect its facilities Wednesday. The person did not find any sign of bats roosting in any buildings and saw no droppings, indicating they were flying in and out of the bunkhouse, not staying long periods, she said.
Schulte said the large cabin where many of the girls stayed had a chimney thought to be the entry point for the bats.
The wildlife expert will advise the camp on how to bat-proof buildings and will re-inspect before the camp reopens, Giesbrecht said.