A bat in Central has tested positive for rabies, prompting animal-control and public health officials to urge residents to vaccinate their pets for the fatal disease.

A woman in Central found the infected bat on her lawn earlier this month and reported it to the East Baton Rouge Parish Animal Control and Rescue Center, said Hilton Cole, director of the center.

The state Office of Public Health tested the bat for rabies, Cole said. The test results proved positive.

Rabies is a viral infection that attacks the nervous system, Cole said.

It is passed through saliva, usually through a bite, and can be contracted by any warm-blooded animal.

The disease is almost always fatal, Cole said.

However, some victims can survive if treatment is administered prior to the onset of symptoms, which vary from lethargy to mania.

To prevent the spread of rabies, pet owners should vaccinate their animals at 3 months old and then either annually or every three years, Cole said.

People should avoid wildlife, he said. If bitten, people should wash the wound, seek medical attention and try to keep track of the animal that bit them so it can be captured and tested.

The last time a bat tested positive for rabies in East Baton Rouge Parish was a few years ago, Cole said. The last time an East Baton Rouge Parish resident died of rabies was in 1953.