State health officials are trying to find out if patients or staff at The Regional Medical Center in Orangeburg may have been exposed to bats at the hospital.

Bats can transmit rabies through bites or the introduction of saliva into open wounds, and bats have small teeth, so their bites may go unnoticed if a person is asleep or heavily medicated.

Health officials say they have not identified any cases so far, and 13 bats tested for rabies have been negative.     

Sonya Ehrhardt, nurse director for infection prevention and control at TRMC, says exterminators counted 51 bats, including those found in hallways or extracted from cavities in walls or ceiling areas.

“We have not throughout this entire thing seen any bats in any patient rooms,” Ehrhardt tells WVOC.  

“They have mainly been in the corridors in the center of our hospital and then we've actually found them in the corridors on a couple of our wings, but not everywhere throughout the hospital.”

Ehrhardt says it's believed the bats got inside during a roofing project.  She says nets have been installed to prevent more from entering.

Meanwhile, the state Department of Health and Environmental Control the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are notifying more than 800 patients and 300 hospital staffers to assess if they may have had contact with a bat or woke up with one in their room between January 1st and February 16th.

DHEC has set up a hotline at 1-800-868-0404, and TRMC also has a hotline at 803-395-3837.