PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The R.I. Department of Health is urging everyone to be vigilant around bats amid an increase in Rhode Islanders needing rabies immunizations.

The state is having an “unprecedented bat season,” according to the Health Department, with at least 209 people needing to get rabies postexposure prophylaxis treatment this month alone.

Cranston resident Deborah Palumbo tells 12 News she was one of those people. Palumbo said she was sleeping over her sister’s house earlier this month when she felt something fly past her.

“I was half awake because it was hot and I felt this breeze,” she recalled. “I remember thinking to myself, ‘Thank God, a breeze.'”

But it wasn’t a breeze. Palumbo said it was actually a bat that had found its way into the house.

Her sister caught the bat with a net and later released it. Palumbo said the entire family also received postexposure immunizations just in case.

Chuck McGinnis, a public health nurse with the Health Department, said the disease is incredibly treatable, but only if a person gets vaccinated prior to displaying symptoms.

“If you think you’ve been exposed, then by all means, we will release the vaccine for you,” he said. “That is a life-saving medicine.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said bats are one of the most commonly reported rabid animals nationwide, and are the leading cause of rabies deaths in Americans.

It’s impossible to tell whether a bat is rabid just by looking at it, according to the CDC, which is why laboratory testing is necessary.

Though most rabid bats are asymptomatic, the CDC said there are some telltale signs that a bat may be infected.

The CDC said the following behaviors are indicative of a rabid bat:

  • Bats that are active during the daytime or found in unusual places
  • Grounded bats that are unable to fly or can be easily approached

Anyone who finds a bat in their home should not attempt to capture it without protecting themselves from potential exposure.

Tips on how to safely capture a bat for testing »

The Health Department urged residents to call either (401) 222-2577 Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. or (401) 276-8046 after hours for guidance on whether a captured bat should be tested prior to being released.