Those woodland creatures may look cute and cuddly, but don’t let that fool you. A bite from a raccoon, skunk or fox could have serious consequences, including an expensive medical bill.

Due to a recent increase in reports of wild animal bites, the Fort Wayne-Allen County Department of Health is advising residents to avoid bats and other wild animals which can carry rabies.

Rabies is a disease that affects the brain and central nervous system. The rabies virus is carried in the saliva of infected animals and is usually transmitted to people and other animals when they are bitten or scratched by the rabid animal.

Depending on the exposure, it may be necessary for a person bitten or scratched to get rabies shots. These post-exposure vaccinations can cost around $9,000 for those without health insurance. If left untreated, rabies is fatal to humans and animals.

Raccoons, bats, coyotes, foxes, and skunks are considered high-risk species for transmitting the rabies virus. By comparison, cats and dogs are considered low-risk since most are routinely vaccinated for rabies.

In the Midwest, the most common carriers of rabies are skunks and bats. While bats, in particular, are beneficial in nature for pollination and insect control, their bites are hard to detect which can be troublesome if one is found in your home. Three people died last year in the United States due to bat-type rabies because family members did not realize the person had been bitten.

If you find bats in your attic, have raccoons under your porch, or come across a sick or injured animal, contact a wildlife control professional. Do not try to remove the animals yourself. City residents can contact Fort Wayne Animal Care & Control to have a bat safely removed from living areas. Whenever a bat is found in a room with a sleeping person or a young child or disabled person, it is also important to have the bat tested.

If you have been bitten by a wild animal, wash the wound immediately with soap and water, seek medical attention and report the incident to the local animal control agency.

To protect against rabies:

•Do not touch or feed wild animals, or stray dogs or cats.

•Make sure your pets are up-to-date on rabies vaccinations.

•Secure trash and any pet food stored outdoors.

•Stay away from any animal that is behaving aggressively or a wild animal that appears ill or is acting unusually friendly. Call a wildlife control expert to have it removed.

•If you find a bat indoors that may have had contact with someone, do not release it before calling the local animal control agency to determine if it should be tested.