Bat on Wisconsin flight prompts rabies probe

August 12, 2011 2:47:06 PM PDT
A bat on a flight from Wisconsin to Atlanta last week has sparked a national search for passengers to protect them against possible rabies.

No one knows if the bat had rabies because it escaped. But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday it wants to talk to people to make sure they didn't have close contact with it, putting them at risk.

CDC officials are trying to reach all 50 passengers who were on the Aug. 5 Delta flight 5121, which departed Madison, Wis., at 6:45 a.m. for Atlanta.

The jet was in the air when the winged intruder emerged and repeatedly flew back and forth the length of cabin - as shown in a video posted on YouTube. The flight immediately returned to Madison.

Some who have watched the video have speculated the creature may have been a bird. But it was labeled a bat by the passenger who shot the video, the CDC rabies expert who studied the video and by a spokesman for Atlantic Southeast Airlines - the Atlanta company that operates the Delta connecting flight.

Employees at the Madison airport who helped get it out of the terminal also said it was a bat, based on how it flew and behaved, said Brent McHenry, spokesman for the Dane County Regional Airport. He said there are bats around other buildings at the airport. "We see them all the time."

Passengers trapped the animal in a jet bathroom. At first, it couldn't be found, McHenry said. But it later escaped, flying out the passenger bridge and into the terminal before it was ushered outside.

As a precautionary step, health officials want to talk to each of the passengers and ask about possible exposure. Finding them has been complicated. The airline only could provide the names of the 15 who reboarded the plane after its return and completed the flight to the Atlanta. The other 35 were shifted to other flights.

The CDC is urging passengers to call 1-866-613-2683.

So far, health investigators have talked to 13 of the 15 passengers who stayed on the flight, and none was bitten or had close enough contact to cause concern.

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