By Public Health – Seattle & King County staff
As the weather warms up in King County, bats come out of hibernation, which means a big increase in human-bat interactions compared to other times of year.
Recently, a Sammamish resident found a bat in their yard. The resident donned gardening gloves and picked up the bat to move it from their yard. The bat became aggressive and bit the resident multiple times. The resident alerted Public Health – Seattle & King County right away.
Public Health got the bat tested for rabies and it tested positive. The resident started rabies post-exposure treatment to protect them from developing rabies.
This bat is the first bat in King County to test positive for rabies in 2021. In 2020, Public Health facilitated rabies testing for 45 bats that had contact with people, and five of the bats tested were rabid.
Bats that are infected with rabies can spread the infection to humans who have bare skin contact with bats or bat saliva.
If you had contact with a bat, or even woke up in a room with a bat inside, you should call your medical provider immediately, in addition to reporting the exposure to Public Health at: 206-296-4774.
Bats and rabies
Any person or animal that touches or has contact with a bat or its saliva could be at risk of getting rabies, which is almost always fatal once symptoms begin. Fortunately, rabies can be prevented if treatment is given before symptoms appear.
“Rabies is preventable but only if treated before symptoms appear, so seeking medical evaluation as soon as possible is important if you’ve had contact with a bat,” said Dr. Jeff Duchin, Health Officer for Public Health – Seattle & King County. “Contact includes touching a bat, being bitten, scratched, or any other bare skin contact with a bat or its saliva.”
“Bats with rabies are found in every part of Washington,” said Hanna Oltean, Senior Epidemiologist in the Zoonotic, Vectorborne and Cross-cutting Disease Program at the Washington State Department of Health. “The most important precaution to prevent rabies exposure is for people to avoid contact with wild animals, especially bats, and to teach children to never touch or handle bats, even dead ones. Protect your pets from rabies by getting dogs, cats and ferrets vaccinated routinely.”
Rabies and pets
If you believe your pet was exposed to a bat, contact your veterinarian immediately. Dogs, cats, ferrets, and horses should be kept current on their rabies vaccine but will need to be revaccinated if they had contact with a bat.
More about rabies
Rabies is dangerous, but treatable if caught early before any symptoms develop:
• If someone has had contact with a bat, treatment can prevent infection. This treatment should be given as soon as possible.
• Rabies is a viral disease of the central nervous system that is almost always fatal once symptoms begin.
• The virus is found in the saliva of an animal with rabies and is usually transmitted by a bite or scratch.
Because rabies is a life-threatening disease, medical advice must be sought promptly if a bat comes into contact with humans or animals.
More about bats
Bats flying overhead, and bats that have not had direct contact with humans or animals, do not pose a risk for transmitting rabies. Healthy bats will avoid people, so be suspicious of a bat you find inside your home or on the ground.
If you find a bat:
• If you find a bat inside your house, call Public Health at 206-296-4774 to discuss the situation and to determine whether the bat needs to be tested for rabies. Public Health tests bats for rabies at no charge under certain circumstances.
• Live bats should be captured and might need to be tested for rabies if:
If the bat had direct contact with a person’s bare skin or with a pet OR
If a person wakes up to a bat in the room in which they were sleeping
• Use a shovel or thick gloves to put a dead bat in a box for testing. Do not throw it away!
• Open windows and allow bats to leave your home if they have not come into contact with a person or pets. Close doors to other parts of your home and secure pets away from the location of the bat.
For more information about how to safely capture a bat in your home and how to safely avoid bats, visit: kingcounty.gov/bats