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A sick bat found on the ground near a Lake Harriet walking path has tested positive for rabies, prompting state health officials to issue an alert about the potentially deadly disease.

Anyone who handled the bat could have contracted the rabies virus and might need a series of shots to counteract the disease, the Minnesota Department of Health said Wednesday afternoon.

The bat was spotted between 9:30 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. last Friday on a path between the Lake Harriet Band Shell and the Lyndale Park Rose Garden in south Minneapolis.

A bike rider discovered the bat and safely brought it to a local wildlife rehabilitation center where it died on Sunday. It then was found to have rabies.

“A bat on the ground, especially in the daytime, is not a normal bat,” said Dr. Malia Ireland, a veterinarian and epidemiologist with the zoonotic diseases unit at the Health Department.

Anyone who handled the bat could have contracted rabies through a bite. Because bat teeth are tiny, bite marks might not be visible.

“The woman who found the bat saw some people looking at it,” Ireland said. “Lake Harriet is a pretty popular place so we decided to be cautious.”

A similar incident happened last May near Como Lake in St. Paul, after a woman was seen picking up a bat from the ground. The Health Department posted notices around the park, and the woman came forward and later received the series of shots that prevents rabies from developing. Signs have also been posted in the Lake Harriet area.

There is no test to detect the presence of rabies, so anyone who might have come in contact with an infected animal is encouraged to get the shots to prevent the disease from developing.

“Once people develop the symptoms, it is uniformly fatal,” Ireland said. “That is why we are super cautious.”

Although bats are a source of rabies infection, only about 3 percent of the bats tested by the state have the virus, Ireland said.

It is unclear how many Minnesotans receive preventive treatment for rabies because doctors and clinics are not required to report it to state disease trackers.

The rabies warning also extends to pets that might have come in contact with the bat.

“Concerned pet owners who were in the area of Lake Harriet when this bat was found should contact their veterinarian,” said Dr. Courtney Wheeler, senior veterinarian in charge of the rabies program at the Minnesota Board of Animal Health. “This situation highlights the importance of ensuring pets are vaccinated against rabies.”

Anyone who may have had physical contact with the bat should call the Health Department at 651-201-5414 or 1-877-676-5414 to determine if rabies shots are necessary.

Glenn Howatt • 612-673-7192