Update: Follow-up story ran on Jul. 30.

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Cochran home infested with bats

Owner can't afford $10,000 extermination price tag

By Carl Lewis

Saturday Jul. 18, 2009

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COCHRAN — It smells foul on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. Really, really foul.

Walking down the street toward Victoria Jackson’s home, the musky stench gets even worse. Stepping inside, it grows almost unbearable.

“It’s a very, very bad odor,” the homeowner said.

MA.BATS

It’s the scent of the droppings from what exterminators estimate are more than 1,000 bats that have made Jackson’s home their roosting spot.

Jackson, 70, has been living with bats since she moved into the house in 1983, but the problem’s gotten worse in the last six months.

She’s tried getting rid of the flying mammals, but the exterminator she consulted told her it would cost about $10,000 to complete the job.

“There’s no way I can afford to do it,” said Jackson, whose efforts to get government grants to help eliminate the bats have been rejected.

The bats are entering the house through gaps between the walls and roof, Jackson said. Usually, the nocturnal creatures stay in the attic, but more and more, particularly at nighttime, Jackson has noticed them squeezing their way into her kitchen, living room, bathroom and bedroom.

“I’ll see one flying around at least once a day,” she said.

One of the bats bit Jackson’s daughter, Ann Cumby, while she was staying at the house one night two years ago. Cumby was able to kill the bat with an iron, put it in a plastic bag and take it to the doctor’s office, where it tested negative for rabies.

But that doesn’t mean Jackson and her daughter are safe from the disease.

“Just because one bat tests negative for rabies doesn’t mean the others don’t have it,” Jacob Polsky, an environmentalist at the Bleckley County Health Department in Cochran, said. “It’s a huge risk to be living in a house like that.”

Polsky recommended that Jackson and her daughter receive rabies treatment if they continue staying at the home.

Jackson hasn’t been bitten by a bat yet — at least as far as she knows.

“It’s possible that she has been bitten in the middle of the night and never even knew it happened,” Polsky said.

Rabies isn’t the only health issue Jackson and her daughter have to worry about. Wade Green, an extension agent in nearby Twiggs County, said the mother and daughter are at risk for developing histoplasmosis, a serious respiratory disease caused by a fungus that grows on bat droppings.

“When people breathe in the air from bat droppings that have developed the fungus, they can get fever, chest pains or even develop a chronic lung disease,” Green said. “In the elderly, it could even become fatal.”

Jackson’s neighbors who breathe in the air are at risk, too, Green said.

Tyrone Elvine, who lives down the street from Jackson with his wife and kids, said he can smell the bats from sitting inside his house watching TV.

And Rose Coley, the 84-year-old who lives next door, said she’s scared the bats will make their way into her house next.

“I can smell them really strong, especially when a breeze blows through,” she said. “But what really scares me is the thought that one will come here and bite me.”

The bats can be heard chirping above the walls of the house almost constantly. Next-door neighbor Coley said the chirping noises the bats can grow so loud at times that it interferes with her sleeping.

The creatures can be seen flitting around inside through cracks in the roof, and bat droppings and carcasses blanket the edges of the house's foundation.

Earlier this week, Jackson’s daughter had a friend try to plug up the holes on the outside of the house where the bats have been entering, but so far, she’s been unsuccessful in her efforts to eradicate the creatures.

“It’s going to take a professional,” Cumby said. “And that’s something I just don’t think we can pay for right now.”

Truetech Pest and Animal Control is one local company that specializes in bat removal.

Michael Pope, who manages the company, said bat removals can cost anywhere from $200 to thousands of dollars, depending on the nature of the structure and the type of bats roosting there. Rather than traditional pest removals, bats have to be siphoned out of homes through special tubes and equipment.

“We’d be glad to come out Monday and give her a free inspection and see what we can do to help her from there,” Pope said.

In the meantime, Jackson said she and her daughter are still trying to save up enough money to get the bats removed.

“It’s definitely a problem,” she said. ”Hopefully, we’ll be able to do something about it soon.”

To contact writer Carl Lewis, call 744-4347.