Recently, a Skagit County resident was exposed to rabies virus after handling a bat with bare hands. The resident picked up a live bat found on the ground in their yard and sustained a scratch from the bat. The resident correctly alerted Skagit County Public Health was directed to medical care, and received the first doses of rabies prophylaxis the same day as the exposure.

Due to risk from this human exposure to the bat, Skagit County Public Health submitted the bat to the state public health lab for rabies testing. The bat tested positive for rabies virus. This situation highlights the importance of never handling bats or wild animals. Bats found on the ground may be ill and should be left alone or moved safely (with a shovel, for example) to a location where pets and family members cannot contact them.

In Washington, bats are the only known mammal to carry rabies. Bats infected with rabies can spread the infection to other mammals, including humans, who have bare skin contact with bats or bat saliva. Any person or animal that touches or has contact with a bat or its saliva could be at risk of getting rabies, which is almost always fatal once symptoms begin. However, rabies is preventable if treatment is provided before symptoms appear. Contact includes touching a bat, being bitten, scratched, or any other bare skin contact with a bat or its saliva.

If you or a family member may have had direct contact with a bat, call your medical provider immediately, in addition to reporting the exposure to Skagit County Public Health at (360) 416-1500.

Pets and livestock are at-risk for getting rabies from bats, too. Make sure to keep your dogs, cats, ferrets, cattle, and horses up to date on their rabies vaccination. If you think your pet or livestock was exposed to a bat, contact your veterinarian immediately.

Prevent rabies infection by:

  1. Do not touch or handle wild animals, especially bats.
  2. Do not feed wild animals or keep them as pets.
  3. Bat-proof your home. Bats can squeeze through cracks and holes as small as half an inch. Learn how to humanely exclude them here.
  4. Vaccinate cats, dogs, and ferrets against rabies and consider doing the same for livestock.
  5. Teach your kids not to touch bats, or any wild animal, and be sure to keep your pets away from bats.

If you think you or your children or pets may have had contact with a bat, take immediate action.

  1. Immediately wash the area that came into contact with the bat thoroughly with soap and water.
  2. Call your medical provider. If a person has been exposed to rabies, a series of rabies vaccinations need to be given as soon as possible to prevent infection and death.
  3. Report your exposure (or potential exposure) to Skagit County Public Health at (360) 416-1500.
  4. If the bat needs to be tested for rabies, never handle a bat with bare hands. Learn more about safely capturing bats for rabies testing here.

Most bats don’t have rabies. Bats flying overhead and bats that have no had direct contact with humans or animals, do not pose a risk for transmitting rabies. In fact, bats are beneficial to people and the environment in many ways. They are effective predators of night-flying insects (including mosquitoes), and act as pollinators of plants and trees. Just don’t forget, they can also be carriers of a very rare, but serious disease.

For more information about rabies and how to protect your family and pets from rabies exposure, check out our blog post or contact Skagit County Public Health at (360) 416-1500 or Skagit Health.