Bats in King County can have rabies, as an unidentified area couple recently found out when a bat they found in their house tested positive for rabies, according to Public Health-Seattle & King County.
Because they weren’t sure whether the bat had scratched or bitten them while they were sleeping, the couple received post-exposure treatment, which is 100-percent effective if given promptly. Without treatment, rabies is almost always fatal once symptoms begin.
This year in King County, 22 people have been treated for exposure to potentially rabid bats. Two of the bats that were tested were found to be rabid.
“Healthy bats will avoid people, so be suspicious of a bat you find inside your home or on the ground,” said Sharon Hopkins, veterinarian at Public Health. “Bats are an important part of our ecosystem, but teach children never to touch a bat, even if it is dead.”
Approximately 5-10 percent of bats tested in King County have rabies. If the bat is discovered in a room where a person has been sleeping, there is a chance that the person was bitten or scratched without knowing it. Bats have tiny, razor-sharp teeth and claws that sometimes don’t leave any bite or scratch marks.
What to do if you find a bat:
• If you find a bat inside the house, call Public Health at 206-296-4774 to discuss the situation and to arrange for testing the bat for rabies. Public Health tests bats for rabies free of charge.
• If the bat is alive, do not let it go. Knock it to the floor with a broom or other object, and cover it with a wastebasket or other container. Scoop it into a secure box with a lid without touching it or wear heavy leather gloves to pick it up and put it in a box.
• For detailed instructions on capturing a bat, go to www.metrokc.gov/health/prevcont/bats.htm.
• Use a shovel or gloves to put a dead bat in a box for testing. Do not throw it away.
If a person has been bitten or scratched by a possibly rabid animal, the individual should undergo a series of vaccinations to prevent rabies. However, if the bat is captured, tested, and found to be negative for rabies, then no treatment is needed. Each year two or three people in the United States die of rabies because they didn’t seek medical care after contact with a rabid animal, usually a bat.
Protect your pets, too:
• If a pet has contact with a bat or other wild animal, contact your veterinarian and the Public Health veterinarian at 206-205-4394.
• King County regulations require that dogs, cats and ferrets be vaccinated for rabies by the age of four months with regular boosters after that. Check with your veterinarian to ensure your pets’ rabies vaccinations are up-to-date.
While bats are the most likely animal to infect a person or pet with rabies, other animals such as dogs, cats, raccoons and monkeys can also carry rabies.
Call Public Health if you are bitten by an animal, including bites that occur while traveling in other countries. If your pet may have been in contact with a bat, call the Public Health veterinarian.
For more rabies information, visit www.metrokc.gov/health/prevcont/bats.htm or www.metrokc.gov/health/env_hlth/rabies.htm.