Governmental agencies are asking more than 1,000 patients and employees at The Regional Medical Center to get a health assessment immediately since the hospital reported bat sightings.
The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control asks patients who stayed overnight in the hospital's east wing between Jan. 1 and Feb. 16 to contact DHEC to assess their health risk for possible exposure to bats, which can sometimes transmit rabies to people.
DHEC and Centers for Disease Control are currently notifying more than 800 patients and 300 hospital staff to encourage individuals who had direct contact with a bat or who awakened to find a bat in a room to call DHEC at 1-800-868-0404 to assess their potential risk for rabies exposure and provide referrals for further medical evaluation, if needed.
DHEC is working with The Regional Medical Center and the CDC to investigate reports of recent bat sightings and contact with bats. To date, the joint investigation has not identified any reports of bites from bats by The Regional Medical Center patients or employees.
"Bats can transmit rabies to people through bites or the introduction of saliva into open wounds," said Dr. Linda Bell, a state epidemiologist. "Bats have small teeth that can cause bites that may go unnoticed. For this reason, it's important to identify a person that potentially came in direct contact with a bat to assess their health risk for rabies exposure."
The Regional Medical Center has established a clinic at the hospital to serve any patients or staff who are referred for follow-up medical evaluation and possible preventive rabies treatment.
"Our priority is to ensure that patients who received care at RMC are safe," said Marilyn Tremblay, a registered nurse and chief information officer for The Regional Medical Center. "We are committed to working with DHEC and CDC to resolve this situation and prevent such events from happening in the future. RMC will offer medical evaluation and preventive rabies treatment regardless of a patient's ability to pay for services."
RMC has also set up a hotline number for patients and employees who have questions about the ongoing bat investigation. The hospital hotline number is 803-395-3837.
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