msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 2/2/2012 7:24:42 AM ET 2012-02-02T12:24:42

Health officials are warning people who were in downtown Providence, Rhode Island, last week that they may have been exposed to rabies when a man was showing off a bat he had in a box.

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Officials said the man was displaying the animal in Kennedy Plaza on the morning of Jan. 23.

A health care provider alerted health officials after treating one onlooker for a bat bite and another for suspected rabies exposure.

"This bat, we don't know if it had rabies or not", the website for WPRI-TV quoted Peter Hanney, Rhode Island Department of Health spokesperson, as saying. "So out of an abundance of caution we're asking people to please give us a call at the Department of Health."

Bat rabies is highly contagious. Health officials said they were not sure if the bat had rabies, but advised people who were at the plaza that morning to have themselves checked out and to call the Department of Health.

"There's different types of rabies, and the bat strain is really contagious. It doesn't need to be from a bite. It can be just from the saliva if it gets into any mucous membranes or small cuts that you may have on you, you can contract rabies that way too. Left untreated, it is deadly," Hanney told WPRI.

Officials said the unidentified man was in his 50s and was about 6 feet tall with a beard and glasses.

Msnbc.com staff and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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