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Watch out for bats — they can carry rabies

Bats in King County can have rabies, as a local couple recently learned when a bat that they found in their house tested positive for rabies. Because they were not sure whether the bat had scratched or bitten them while they were sleeping, they received post-exposure treatment, which is 100 percent effective if given promptly. Without treatment, rabies is almost always fatal once symptoms begin. Since the beginning of 2008 in King County, 22 people have been treated for exposure to potentially rabid bats, and two of the bats tested positive for rabies.

“Healthy bats will avoid people, so be suspicious of a bat you find inside your home or on the ground,” said Dr. Sharon Hopkins, Public Health veterinarian at Seattle & King County 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 to 10 percent of bats that are 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 do not 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. Using heavy leather gloves, so as not to touch the bat, scoop it into a secure box with a lid.

• 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!

A series of vaccinations is advised to prevent rabies if a person is bitten or scratched by a potentially rabid animal. 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 did not 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 at (206) 296-4774 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 at (206) 205-4394.

Additional rabies information may be found at: www.metrokc.gov/health/prevcont/bats.htm and www.metrokc.gov/health/env_hlth/rabies.htm.

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