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Bat found at Wal-Mart tests positive for rabies

New Mexico health authorities say a bat found in a Wal-Mart tested positive for rabies. (The Associated Press File Photo)

New Mexico health authorities say a bat found in a Wal-Mart tested positive for rabies. (The Associated Press File Photo)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A bat found hanging from the basket of a motorized wheelchair at Wal-Mart at 10224 Coors Bypass NW in Albuquerque on Tuesday morning has tested positive for rabies, and anyone who had contact with it is urged to contact health authorities.

The state Department of Health said in a news release that the bat was found about 9 a.m. Tuesday as a customer was at the checkout counter at the Wal-Mart supercenter just northwest of Cottonwood Mall.

A person who helped remove the bat from the cart was bitten and is expected to begin receiving a series of vaccinations for rabies, which can be fatal, health officials said.

“We would like anyone who may have touched this bat or handled it in any way to give us a call so we can interview them for possible exposure to rabies,” Health Secretary Retta Ward said in a statement. “Just being near or in the vicinity of the bat is not an exposure.”

Anyone who handled or touched the bat should call the Department of Health at 505-827-0006.

That includes the person who was driving the motorized wheelchair, a spokesman told the Journal on Thursday afternoon.

The customer, after the bat was cleared, paid for groceries and left the premises.

The department said it would not say whether the person who was bitten was a Wal-Mart employee because of patient confidentiality.

“In New Mexico, bats, skunks and foxes are reservoirs for rabies, and they can transmit rabies to people, pets, livestock or other wild animals,” said Dr. Paul Ettestad, public health veterinarian with the department.

“We urge everyone to vaccinate their pets and livestock against rabies; vaccination is one of the most effective public health tools we have to prevent humans from being exposed to rabies.”

People are encouraged to report bats that may have bitten or been handled by someone, or bats that appear sick – lying on the ground or not moving when approached – to 311, said Dr. Mark DiMenna of the city of Albuquerque Environmental Health Department.

“People should wait for help rather than handling the bat themselves,” he said.