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Chance of rabies from bats up in summer

Reporter staff

Warm summer nights increase chance encounters with bats, which are known rabies carriers. Approximately 5-10 percent of bats that are tested in King County are found to have rabies, so anyone who finds a bat on the ground or in a house should take precautions to avoid directly touching it.

“Bats are the most common way for people to get rabies in this country,” said Dr. Tao Kwan-Gett, medical epidemiologist at Public Health - Seattle & King County. “So teach children never to touch a bat, even if it is dead.”

Dr. Kwan-Gett also recommended that people call Public Health immediately if a bat is discovered in a room where people have been sleeping. Bats have tiny, razor-sharp teeth that sometimes don’t leave any bite marks.

After a person is bitten by a possibly rabid animal, a series of vaccinations is recommended to prevent infection, unless the animal is available for testing and found to be negative for rabies. Since the beginning of 2007, 21 people in King County have needed rabies prevention treatment after being exposed to bats. Two of the bats tested positive for rabies. An additional 21 people have been treated for exposure to other wild animals, including animals outside the United States.

Typical exposures

A Seattle adolescent was awakened around 2 a.m. on an early June morning by a bat fluttering around in his room. The bat had flown in through an open window that was covered by a wooden blind. The boy lifted up the blind and the bat disappeared out in the night. The boy told his parents about his bat encounter. Since the bat was not available for rabies testing, Public Health recommended rabies post-exposure treatment, which involves a series of five rabies vaccinations. The teen has completed the rabies vaccination without problems.

A Kenmore family awoke at 4 a.m. to find an injured bat in the bedroom area of their home. The family had four cats inside the home, none of which had up-to-date rabies vaccinations. The family contacted Public Health, and rabies testing was performed on the bat. The bat tested positive for rabies. Since the whereabouts of the bat in the home during the night were unknown, the whole family received prevention treatment. The cats were quarantined at home for six months and, fortunately, none of them came down with rabies.

What to do if you find a bat:

If an exposure occurred and the bat is available for testing, Public Health will get it tested free of charge. If the bat is negative for rabies, no preventive treatment for rabies will be recommended. If the bat tests positive for rabies, or if the bat is unavailable for testing, rabies preventive treatment will be recommended.

If you find a dead or living bat inside the house, call Public Health. Do not shoo the bat outside! It is possible that the bat bit a family member while they were asleep.

Use a shovel or wear heavy leather gloves to pick up the bat and put it in a secure box or other container with a lid for testing. Pest control operators can assist in capturing a live bat for a fee. Screen windows and doors to keep bats from chasing an insect into your home. For specific instructions on capturing a bat, see www.metrokc.gov/HEALTH/prevcont/bats.htm.

Call Public Health - Seattle & King County at 206-296-4774.

Protect your pets, too

King County regulations require rabies vaccinations for dogs, cats and ferrets by the age of four months and regular boosters thereafter. Check with your veterinarian to ensure your pets’ rabies vaccinations are up-to-date.

If a pet has had contact with a bat or other wild animal, contact your veterinarian and the Public Health veterinarian at 206-205-4394 for advice.

For more information about bats and rabies, visit www.metrokc.gov/HEALTH/prevcont/bats.htm.

For general information about rabies prevention, visit www.metrokc.gov/HEALTH/env_hlth/rabies.htm.

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