A Ukiah-area man who attempted to nurse a sick bat back to health is undergoing treatment for rabies, Mendocino County health officials said.

"That's why we advise folks, if you see a wild animal that appears ill, do not handle it," Environmental Health Director John Morley said.

It's the first animal to test positive for rabies in Mendocino County since 2008 but officials are not alarmed. They noted that rabid animals are present in the county and finding one of them is not a major concern.

"It's endemic," Morley said. He said he publicized the rabies case in order to remind people to be careful.

The man brought the bat to health officials Jan. 31, a few days after finding it on the ground and taking it inside his home, Morley said.

The rabid bat did not bite the man, but rabies also can be transmitted from an infected animal's saliva through breaks in the skin or the mucosa of the eyes, mouth or nose.

The man, who was not identified, is undergoing the four-shot treatment as a preventive measure, Morley said. There is no cure for rabies once the disease process begins and it is usually fatal.

The bat was sent to Sonoma County for testing. The positive test for rabies was reported to local authorities on Thursday, he said.

Rabies infection in humans in the United States is rare. Nationwide, two cases of human rabies were reported in 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Worldwide, about 55,000 people die annually from rabies, most of them in Asia and Africa, according to the CDC.

In those counties, bites from infected dogs caused most of the infections. In the United States, vaccination programs for domestic animals have greatly diminished rabies infections. Now, wild animals are the primary source of infection in the United States.

All mammals are susceptible but rabies most often is found in skunks, raccoons, foxes and bats. Bats are the source of most human rabies deaths in the United States and Canada, according to the CDC.

Wild animals accounted for 5,666 - 92.1 percent - of rabid animals reported in the United States in 2010, according to the CDC.

Morley recommends that people avoid contact with wild animals, particularly ones that are sick or are behaving oddly, such as nocturnal animals that are active in daylight.

Never adopt or bring wild animals into your home; teach your children never to handle unfamiliar animals; and vaccinate your pets for rabies, he said.

Anyone who comes into contact with a rabid animal should immediately seek medical care, Morley said.

You can reach Staff Writer Glenda Anderson at 462-6473 or Glenda.anderson@pressdemocrat.com