A girl bitten by a rabid bat Saturday near Liberty Lake is receiving a series of vaccine injections to prevent rabies.
The girl’s mother, who had contact with the bat but was not bitten, also is receiving treatment, the Spokane Regional Health District said.
The girl, who is under age 10, was bitten at Liberty Lake Regional Park near the marshy area south of the swimming beach, health officials said.
The bat tested positive for rabies at the Washington State Public Health Laboratories in Shoreline.
Other people at the park who may have come into contact with the bat are urged to contact the health district’s Zoonotic Disease program.
“We are being cautious in making absolutely sure that no one was potentially exposed to this bat,” said Dr. Joel McCullough, the district’s health officer. “If a person did not have direct contact with the bat, he or she is not at risk for rabies.”
This is the first report of a rabid bat in Spokane County since 2007, when three bats tested positive for the deadly viral infection.
No one in Washington has died from rabies since 1997, when a 64-year-old man from Mason County was diagnosed after his death. He had been hospitalized for possible tetanus. In 1995, a 4-year-old in Lewis County died after a bat bite in the child’s room went undetected.
Official say prompt vaccine treatment is highly effective in preventing rabies following exposure. Injections should begin within 14 days after exposure. The virus is almost always fatal without proper treatment.
Rabies is spread among mammals through the bite of a rabid animal. Although rare, transmission also can occur if the saliva from a rabid animal comes in contact with a person’s eyes, nose, mouth or open wound.
Symptoms of rabies in people can take weeks to months to develop after exposure to a rabid animal.
The bat at Liberty Lake was captured, without human contact, a short time after by a separate unidentified group at a nearby picnic table. Health officials don’t believe these people came into contact with the bat, but as a precaution they are urged to contact the Zoonotic Disease program at (509) 324-1560 ext. 7. Anyone at the park between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. Saturday who may have had direct contact with a bat should also call that number.
The primary animals that carry rabies in the Northwest are bats, but less than 1 percent of all bats in the wild are infected with rabies. Rabid bats have been found in almost every county in Washington.
Last year, 276 bats were tested for rabies in Washington, with 5 percent identified as positive. Four domestic animals have tested positive for rabies in Washington since 1987.
Public health officials advise county residents to avoid contact with wild animals and ensure their pets are vaccinated to reduce the risk of contracting rabies.
“Although most bats are harmless and do not carry rabies, people should never handle live or dead bats,” McCullough said. “To protect yourself and your loved ones, your safest bet is to simply presume that every bat is rabid.”
If the health district determines that an exposure to a person or pet might have occurred, a bat should, with proper precautions, be tested for rabies.
Rabid animals may show unusual behavior or appear unstable and may become aggressive and attempt to bite people, pets and livestock.
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