On Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2016, a woman dropped off a deceased bat at Spokane Regional Health District, 1101 W. College Ave., without speaking to officials. The health district is asking this woman to contact SRHD’s Epidemiology program for consultation, either in person or by phone, (509) 324-1500, to rule out a potential rabies exposure.

Brown Bat
Myotis lucifugus, or Little Brown Bat/CDC

Typically, when an individual comes into contact with a bat, the health district asks a series of questions to rule out if the person was bitten. If they cannot rule it out, staff will send the bat, if viable, for rabies testing.

“In this case, the bat was not viable for testing, so the motivation to speak with this individual is even greater for us,” said Mark Springer, an epidemiologist for SRHD’s Communicable Disease Epidemiology program. “One of the things we reiterate to an individual with a possible exposure is that prompt administration of treatment is highly effective in preventing rabies following exposure.”

Two rabid bats were identified late last month in Spokane County, which means it is possible this bat was rabid. In an advisory issued July 26, 2016, health district officials reminded individuals to avoid contact with bats. The last reported human cases of rabies in Washington state were in 1997 and 1995.

Rabies is a preventable disease caused by a virus that people and other mammals can get through the bite, or rarely through the saliva, of a rabid animal—in Washington state, bats are the only carriers. The average time between infection and when an individual gets sick is three to 12 weeks. The first symptoms of rabies may be very similar to those of the flu including general weakness or discomfort, fever, or headache.

A bat bite or scratch may not be seen or felt due to the small size of a bat’s teeth and claws. People usually come into contact with a bat when it gets into a home through small openings or open windows, when they wake up to find a bat in their room, or when pets bring them in the home.

Individuals should protect themselves and loved ones by:

  • If a person:
    • Has contact with a bat,
    • Finds a bat in the home, or
    • Wakes up to find a bat in his or her room
  • They should:
  1. wash any bite or wound with soap and water
  2. contact their doctor, clinic or emergency room
  3. contact Spokane Regional Health District Zoonotic Disease program (509) 324-1560 ext.7
  4. safely capture the bat, only if it can be done carefully. Use heavy leather gloves, a heavy towel, or tongs. Put it in a can and cover with a tight lid. Do not damage the head of the bat because the brain is needed for testing.
  • Never touch a bat with bare hands, even a dead one. Do not disturb resting (“roosting”) bats.
  • Always vaccinate pets—even indoor pets could be exposed to rabies if a bat gets into a home. Household pets and other animals can be exposed to the virus by playing with sick bats that can no longer fly normally.
  • Bat-proof homes and cabins by plugging all holes in the siding and maintaining tight-fitting screens on windows.
  • Parents should teach their children to avoid bats and to let an adult know if they find one.
  • Take precautions when camping, hunting or fishing. Avoid sleeping on the open ground without the protection of a closed tent or camper. Keep pets on a leash and do not allow them to wander.

While it is estimated that less than 1 percent of bats in the wild carry rabies, 5 percent to 10 percent of those tested are rabid. This is due to the fact that a sick or injured bat is more likely to be tested. Every year, SRHD’s Zoonotic Disease program sends an average of 20 bats to Washington State Public Health Laboratory for rabies testing.