09/24/2012 05:05 pm ET Updated Sep 24, 2012

Rabies In Bats In LA County At Record High, Free Pet Vaccinations Available

Just in time for Halloween, comes a frightening story about blood-sucking bats -- who have rabies.

A record-high of 45 rabid bats have been confirmed in Los Angeles County this year, according to the LA County Department of Public Health. On average, there are usually only 10 rabid bats discovered per year. Previously, the highest number of rabid bats in the county was 38 in 2011.

Because rabies is on the rise, health official are reminding Angelenos to avoid touching any bats or wild animals. And, because rabies is usually spread to humans through pets, the Southern California Veterinary Medical Association is offering free rabies vaccinations to qualified dogs and cats. See a list of participating pet hospitals here.

Although rabies can be deadly if untreated, the US has an effective post-exposure treatment, and there has not been locally-acquired case of human rabies in LA County in over 50 years, Dr. Jonathan Fielding said on the health department's site.

In the 1930s, LA County was the site of the largest rabies outbreak in the nation, peaking in 1937 with more than 1,700 cases, according to Dr. Greg Perrault, owner of Cats & Dogs Animal Hospital in Long Beach. Dr. Perrault writes that canine rabies was not fully controlled until 1956, when dog licensing first required rabies vaccination. Now, he says, cats are now the most frequently-reported domestic rabid animal in the country.

More than 55,000 people die from rabies worldwide every year, a rate of one person every 10 minutes, mostly in developing countries, according to the Bluefield Daily Telegraph.

World Rabies Day is Sept. 28 and is a day to raise awareness about the deadly and painful disease and to encourage people to vaccinate their pets.