SPRINGFIELD — State officials issued a warning Friday about a possible uptick in rabies and urged Illinoisans to avoid contact with bats.

According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, 52 bats have tested positive for rabies in 24 counties. That number surpasses the 51 bats that tested positive in all of 2011.

Bats are the primary carrier of rabies in Illinois.

“It is best never to approach a bat, and if found in a home or building, people should leave the bat alone and call their local public health department or their animal control office for assistance or instructions about removing it,” Public Health chief Lamar Hasbrouck said.

Officials say people should not handle bats or approach other wild animals that may be carrying rabies. And they urged pet owners to keep vaccinations up to date.

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