In early June, an eastern King County resident and their unvaccinated puppy were exposed to rabies after potentially coming in contact with a bat in the bushes near their home. The bat was collected and sent to the Washington State Public Health Lab where it tested positive for rabies. In situations like these, Public Health will make recommendations for potentially exposed humans and animals.
This is the first lab-confirmed rabid bat in King County for 2023. In 2022, Public Health helped with rabies testing for 43 bats that had contact with people, and five of the bats tested positive for rabies.
As the weather warms up, bats come out of hibernation, which means a potential increase in human-bat interactions compared to other times of year. Bats can be infected with rabies and can spread that infection to humans who have bare skin contact with bats or bat saliva.
What to do if you come in contact with a bat
- Immediately wash the area of the body that came into contact with the bat thoroughly with soap and water.
- Call your medical provider. If a person has been exposed to rabies, an injection of immune globulin and a series of rabies vaccinations need to be given as soon as possible to prevent infection and death.
- Report the interaction to Public Health: 206-296-4774.
If you think you had contact with a bat, try to trap it safely! Trapping it means it can be tested for rabies and people potentially exposed can get the treatment they need. If the bat is crushed, it might not be testable. “How am I supposed to trap a bat?” you ask. Good news – we made a how-to video. More information on how to safely catch a bat and have it tested for rabies can be found here.
If you see a bat, do not touch it without the appropriate protection. Any bare skin contact with a bat or its saliva, or waking up to a bat in your room, could put you at risk for exposure to rabies. Teach your kids not to touch bats, or any wild animal, and be sure to keep your pets away from bats. Talk to your family about the importance of respecting wildlife from a distance.
Pets are at-risk for getting rabies from bats, too
Vaccinate your pets against rabies to protect them in case they are exposed. In Washington State, all dogs, cats, and ferrets are required to be up to date on their rabies vaccinations. Talk to your veterinarian to see if your furry family members need to update their rabies vaccine.
If you suspect your pet has come into contact with a bat, call your veterinarian right away, even if your pet is up to date on its vaccinations. Your veterinarian may need to give it a booster shot for added protection!
What is rabies?
Rabies is a preventable viral disease that infects the brain and spinal cord. Rabies virus is found in the saliva of an infected animal and is usually spread by a bite or scratch. If a person does not receive the appropriate treatment and medical care after a potential rabies exposure, infection with the virus is almost always fatal.
Bats & rabies
Each year, we receive between 80 to 140 reports of people being exposed to potentially rabid bats in King County. Bats are the only known carrier of rabies in Washington state.
Most bats don’t have rabies. Although exact numbers are not known, it is estimated that less than 1% of bats are infected with rabies. Unfortunately, you cannot tell if a bat has rabies by looking at it; only testing the brain tissue on a dead bat can confirm if a bat has rabies (live bats need to be humanely euthanized before they can be tested for rabies). So, assume all bats may have rabies and never touch them.
Important information about bats
Don’t let all this information about rabies give you a negative opinion on bats. There are over 15 species of bats in Washington State. They eat large amounts of night-flying insects like mosquitos, termites, and agricultural pests, diminishing mosquito-related diseases and the need for pesticides in our community. In fact, some people try to attract bats to their property to help reduce the number of insects. For information on how to build a bat house for your yard, check out this resource.
Originally published 6/13/2023.