Idaho’s first rabid bat of the season has been confirmed, after it flew into a home in northern Kootenai County and the residents found it lying on their staircase.
Now, they’re all undergoing rabies shots.
Last week’s discovery is earlier than usual, likely due to the recent warm weather, and health officials are warning folks to stay away from bats.
Rabid bats have been found in almost every county in Washington and in every part of Idaho, but usually reports don’t begin surfacing in North Idaho until July. “This last week of hot weather was really out of the ordinary for us, so I guess a lot of bats woke up,” said Cynthia Taggart, spokeswoman for the Panhandle Health Department in North Idaho. “They hibernate over the winter.”
In the Kootenai County incident, “It was still alive, and they just kind of used a towel to pick it up and put it outside,” Taggart said. “They thought it would fly away, but it didn’t, it died – and that’s not a good sign. They wisely sent it off to us for testing and it was rabid.”
Everyone in the house is now being treated for rabies, a fatal illness, Taggart said, as there’s no way to know whether anyone was bitten by the bat. “There’s no signs of bites,” she said, “But bats have such sharp teeth that they can bite and you don’t know.”
Current rabies treatment involves a series of five shots administered over a couple of weeks; two of the shots are given on the first day of treatment, which must commence within 10 days of exposure. “No one’s ever developed rabies who started within that 10-day window, and these people did,” Taggart said.
State health officials in both states are warning people to stay away from bats. “People should call their health care providers immediately if they have been bitten or scratched by a bat. Medical therapy administered to people after an animal bite is extremely effective in preventing rabies,” said Dr. Leslie Tengelsen, Idaho deputy state epidemiologist. “It is extremely important for people to avoid bats or other wild animals that appear sick or are acting aggressively or abnormally.”
Said Taggart, “It’s important to let people know that if they do have a bat in their house, that they’re considered exposed. … They don’t know that it hasn’t bitten anybody, so they should right away get a hold of us.”
In 2012, nine rabid bats were confirmed in Washington, all in the western half of the state, and 23 in Idaho, including one in Kootenai County last July 3.