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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
News >  Spokane

Two rabid bats identified in Spokane County

A Spokane County woman is currently undergoing rabies vaccinations and a cat is quarantined in its owner’s home after a pair of rabid bats were discovered in the county. These are the first reported cases of rabies exposure in Spokane County this year.

Bats are responsible for most cases of rabies across the United States and were the cause of Washington’s last known rabies deaths, in 1995 and 1997. According to Spokane Regional Health District officials, 13 bats in Washington tested positive for rabies last year, and nine have tested positive so far in 2016.

“We want people to make sure they’re minimizing contact with bats,” said Spokane Regional Health District epidemiologist Mark Springer. “That they’re not trying to pick up or hold a bat, that they’re treating them with respect in terms of the danger that could be there.”

Last week, the woman found a bat in her pool in the backyard of her Spokane County home and it was tested at the state Public Health Laboratory. After tests came back positive for rabies, she was advised to undergo the nearly monthlong process of vaccination, even though she reported not being bitten or scratched, health officials say.

Springer said this is standard procedure for anyone who is exposed to a rabid animal, especially bats. Since bat scratches and bites can often go unnoticed, it’s possible for people to have contracted the disease without ever knowing it.

And people who come in contact with a bat in a living space such as a living room or bedroom should attempt to safely capture the animal without coming into contact with it, not let it escape, he said. It’s cheaper to test a bat for rabies than it is to pay for the five or six shots it takes to get vaccinated.

“We have people who oftentimes have an exposure in their home where they’re sleeping, and they let the bat go,” he said. “For us, that’s a guaranteed situation where they get vaccinated.”

If it’s not in a living space, Springer recommends avoiding bats altogether. But if exposure does occur, he recommends getting vaccinated as soon as possible. Health officials estimate there’s about a two-week window from when a person is exposed to when they have to start vaccinations. But once symptoms start – anywhere from two to eight weeks – there’s nothing medicine can do.

In unvaccinated people, “rabies is a universally fatal disease,” Springer said. “If there’s any potential of contact, we urge people to get vaccinated.”

Around the same time the woman found a bat in her a pool, an unvaccinated cat brought a bat into another Spokane County home. When that bat tested positive for rabies as well, the cat was quarantined inside the owner’s home, where it remains until the window of time passes when it would exhibit symptoms.

“We really want to encourage pet owners to ensure their cat or dog is up to date on rabies vaccine,” Springer said, adding that it’s against the law not to have a pet vaccinated in Washington.

Four domestic animals in Washington have been diagnosed with rabies since 1990, and at least two contracted it from bats, according to the CDC.

The Spokane Regional Health District estimates only about 1 percent of wild bats have rabies. And this year, district officials have submitted more bats for testing than ever before, something they attribute to people becoming more aware of the risks associated with simply being exposed to bats.

Even though there have been no reported cases of human rabies in Spokane County, Springer would prefer if people avoided contact with bats altogether.

“In a situation where we have contact with a bat that’s later proved to be rabid, it’s very difficult to ascertain, in hindsight, all of the facts,” Springer said. “When you were holding the bat, did you have any contact with the head? Is there a bite or scratch? … After the fact, there’s too much ambiguity there.”

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