Washington state finds more rabid bats this spring, here's what to do if one touches you

More bats have tested positive for rabies in the month of May than in any other May for the past 20 years, and while it's only a handful so far, Washington state health officials are taking the chance to remind people how to avoid bats, and what to do if you come in contact with one.

It's estimated less than 1 percent of bats carry the disease, which is fatal to people and pets in nearly all cases if left untreated, reports the Spokane Regional Health District. But the percentage of bats tested (a few hundred a year) that carry rabies is higher, between 3 percent and 10 percent. 

Four bats in Snohomish, King and Chelan counties have tested positive for rabies so far this year, according to the Washington State Department of Health, and in each of the last couple years, a few bats have tested positive in Spokane County. Several people in the Spokane area have come in contact with bats already this spring, but none have tested positive for rabies so far, the health district reports. 

Bats hibernate during the winter and are good for the environment and pest control, but they are the most common carriers of rabies in the Pacific Northwest, according to health officials. 

Most of the time, people come into contact with a bat when it sneaks into their home through a window or opening or a pet brings it inside, the health district reports, and it's important to be careful if and when that happens, because you might not feel a scratch or bite from the bat. 
 

  • "A potential rabies exposure should never be taken lightly. In 2015, a rabid bat bit a child in Spokane County, resulting in vaccination of both the child and mother. Again, if left untreated, rabies is almost always fatal. The last reported human cases of rabies in Washington state were in 1997 and 1995."


So here's what to do, according to health officials:

  • Make sure pets are vaccinated against rabies.
  • Make sure windows and doors have screens on them, and chimney dampers are closed, to prevent easy access points to your home.
  • If you're not sure whether a bat should be tested, call the Spokane Regional Health District at 324-1560, extension 7, to see if it should be captured.
     
  • If you find a dead bat that hasn't been in touch with someone, you should throw it away to prevent possible exposure: wear gloves and use a shovel to put it in a bag, tie it off and double bag it before throwing it away where kids can't access it. Then wash the shovel with a 10 percent bleach solution.
  • Talk to a health professional if you may have been exposed to determine if you need to be vaccinated. 

“Prompt administration of this treatment is highly effective in preventing rabies following exposure," says SRHD Health Officer, Dr. Bob Lutz. “Although most bats are harmless and do not carry rabies, people should never handle live or dead bats. To protect yourself and your loved ones, your safest bet is to simply presume every bat is rabid.”

click to enlargeSome tips for how to avoid contact with bats around your property from the Spokane Regional Health District. - SPOKANE REGIONAL HEALTH DISTRICT BATSMART PROGRAM