For immediate release: June 18, 2018
Liz Coleman, Environmental Public Health 360-481-2016
Jessica Baggett, Disease Control and Health Statistics 360-338-5630
Rabid Bat Season Begins in Washington State
Springtime weather and increased insect populations are the signal for bats to end their winter hibernation and resume their nocturnal feeding. Increased bat activity also increases the risk of human exposure to a bat that may be sick with rabies infection. As of June 1, 2018 the Washington State Public Health Lab has detected 5 rabid bats that were linked to human exposures, including a well-publicized case of a sick bat that was picked up at Husky Stadium in Seattle and carried to a fraternity house. Human exposures to bats occur in Jefferson County almost every year. The last rabid bat detected in this county was in 2013. A rabid cat was found in Jefferson County in 2015 that had been infected by a sick bat.
Rabies is a severe viral disease that affects the central nervous system. It is almost always fatal. All warm-blooded mammals including humans are susceptible to rabies. Bats are the primary animal that carry rabies in Washington. Between 3-10% of bats submitted for testing are found to be rabid. Bats tested for rabies are more likely to test positive for rabies because they tend to be sick and injured; less than 1% of bats in the wild are infected with rabies. Rabid bats have been found in almost every county in Washington.
While rabid raccoons, skunks, foxes, or coyotes have not been identified recently in Washington, the virus can be transmitted from bats to these mammals. The rabies virus is found in the saliva of a rabid animal. It is usually spread to humans by animal bites. Rabies could potentially be spread if the virus comes into contact with mucous membranes (eye, nose, and respiratory tract), open cuts or wounds. Person-to-person transmission of rabies has occurred only through tissue transplantation.
The following strategies are the best way to prevent rabies exposure:
Do not handle wild animals, especially bats.
Teach your children never to touch or handle bats, even dead ones. Have your children tell an adult if they find a bat at home, at school, or with a pet.
If you see a wild animal leave it alone.
Do not keep wild animals as pets.
Keep bats out of your living space by your home.
Pets can get rabies if bitten by a rabid animal. Protect them and yourself by getting them vaccinated routinely. Dogs, cats, and ferrets are now required to be vaccinated in Washington. Consult your veterinarian for vaccine recommendations.
Tips on bat proofing your house and additional information on rabies can be found at the Washington State Department of Health website: https://www.doh.wa.gov/YouandYourFamily/IllnessandDisease/Rabies
If you have been bitten by or exposed to a bat, call Jefferson County Public Health at (360) 385-9400.