May 15, 2013 in Idaho

Rabid bat forces family to get shots

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Bat safety tips

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare offers these tips for dealing with bats:

• Do not touch a bat with your bare hands.

• If you have had contact with a bat or wake up to find a bat in your room, seek medical advice immediately.

• If you come in contact with a bat, save it in a nonbreakable container if it is alive, or sealed and double-bagged in clear plastic bags without touching it if it’s dead. Call your public health district to determine whether testing the bat for rabies is indicated. If it is determined that you or your pet may be at risk of exposure to rabies, testing of the bat is a free service.

• Always vaccinate your dogs, cats, ferrets and horses against rabies. Even indoor pets could be exposed to rabies if a bat gets into a home.

• Bat-proof your home or cabin by plugging all holes in the siding and maintaining tight-fitting screens on windows.

• Teach children to avoid bats and to let an adult know if they find one.

The first rabid bat of the season has been confirmed in Idaho after it flew into a home in northern Kootenai County, where residents found it lying on their staircase.

The whole family is now undergoing rabies shots because there’s no way to know whether anyone was bitten by the bat.

“There’s no signs of bites,” said Cynthia Taggart, spokeswoman for the Panhandle Health District, “but bats have such sharp teeth that they can bite and you don’t know.”

It’s earlier than usual for such a discovery, likely due to the recent warm weather.

Rabid bats have been found in almost every county in Washington and in every part of Idaho, but reports usually don’t begin surfacing 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” from hibernation, Taggart said.

In the Kootenai County incident, the bat was still alive when it was found. “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.

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,” Taggart said.

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.”

Taggart said anyone who finds a bat in their house should consider themselves exposed to rabies. “They don’t know that it hasn’t bitten anybody, so they should right away get ahold of us,” she said.

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.


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