Close encounters with bats
Warm summer nights bring out bats and increase chance encounters between bats and people and bats and pets. It is estimated that less than 1% of healthy bats in WA State have rabies, but between 5% and 10% of those tested are found to be infected with rabies. Three recent situations are great examples of how people may be exposed to rabid bats. In May of this year, a bat in the Tri Cities area was napping inside a closed patio umbrella (not an uncommon phenomenon). When the umbrella was opened, the bat flew out and bit a young child. The bat tested positive for rabies and the child received rabies post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP), which consists of a rabies immune globulin shot and a series of four vaccinations.
On the afternoon of July 15, a sick bat was found on the beach in the popular Madison Park in Seattle. A lifeguard put a bucket over the bat which was then picked up by Seattle Animal Shelter staff. That bat tested positive for rabies. Since this is a very popular beach with hundreds of visitors a day in the summer, Public Health – Seattle & King County issued a press release asking anyone who had contact with the bat to call to discuss the circumstances and possible need for PEP. Of interest to veterinarians, the press release also mentioned the need to call Public Health if a pet had been exposed to the bat. In another incident, on August 1 a south King County resident’s miniature dachshund came into the house with a hunting prize in her mouth. When the owner pried what she thought was a sparrow out of the dog’s mouth, she discovered it was actually a bat. Reminded by hearing media reports of the Madison Park rabid bat, she called Public Health. The bat was tested and found to be rabid; the dog owner is now undergoing the rabies PEP series. Fortunately, the dog was up-to-date on rabies vaccinations and only needed a single rabies booster and 45 days of in-home quarantine.
Every year there are between 240 and 290 reports in WA State of suspected or confirmed human exposures to rabies that require administration of rabies PEP. In 2012 there were 242 suspected rabies exposures of which 174 (72%) were bat exposures including 23 bites, other direct contact with a bat or waking up to a bat in the room.
Veterinarians are often contacted about bat exposures to pets, especially cats. Hopefully the pet is current on its rabies vaccination, as required by law in WA State. If the bat is available, it can be tested for rabies at the Veterinary Diagnostic Lab at Oregon State University at the cost of $88 to the owner.
Instructions for packing and shipping a dead bat are at www.kingcounty.gov/healthservices/health/ehs/zoonotics/testing.aspx. If the bat is positive or not available for testing, the local health department should be contacted for advice about quarantining the pet. Cats and dogs that are current on their rabies shots are confined for 45 days and those who are not are confined for 6 months. It is always a good idea to ask if any family members or other persons were exposed to the bat. Bats that have exposed people can be tested at no cost by WA State Public Health Lab after the local health department grants permission. Contact information for WA State local health departments is at www.doh.wa.gov/AboutUs/PublicHealthSystem/LocalHealthJurisdictions.aspx. In King County call 206-296-4774 for potential human rabies exposures and 206-263-8454 for potential animal rabies exposures.
By Dr. Sharon Hopkins. Dr. Hopkins is the Public Health Veterinarian with the Seattle-King County Public Health Department. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
General information about rabies from WA State Dept. of Health:
Information about bats and rabies from Public Health- Seattle & King County:
Bats – Living with wildlife from WA Dept. Of Fish and wildlife: