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Animal Bites/Rabies

Animal Bites

Rabies is a rare disease caused by a virus that affects all mammals. It can be carried by any mammal and transmitted by an infected mammal to another through a bite or scratch that breaks the skin or through contact with a mucus membrane. The rabies virus attacks the brain and nervous system, leading to death. Whenever a human is bitten by a mammal that is capable of transmitting the rabies virus, the Health Department is responsible for attempting to have the animal is confined by the owner for a period of ten days after the bite for rabies observation. The only animals that can be confined are dogs, cats and ferrets.
Description: http://www.bfhd.wa.gov/pics/dogbite1.gif
Animals bite for many reasons (protecting their young or territory, if they are hurt, as a result of being tormented) and you should not assume that the animal that bit you has rabies. In Washington State, the risk of contracting rabies from an animal is extremely low. In fact the only mammal in Washington known to carry rabies is the bat. Often, there will be no instances of rabies in cats or dogs in the state of Washington. The most recent case was In November of 2002, a cat in Walla Walla County. The cat was infected by a bat.
(For more information about rabies in Washington, click here)



Rabies Observation

The animal (a dog, cat or ferret) must be kept by the owner on a leash or in a tightly fenced yard for a ten day period after the bite. It is very important that the animal be kept ALIVE for this ten day period.

The purpose of confining the animal is to make sure that the animal does not have rabies. Rabies is infectious in the last stages of the disease. If the animal (a dog, cat, or ferret) does have rabies, it will not live for more than 10 days. Therefore, if the animal is alive and healthy at the end of the ten day period, we are assured that the animal did not have rabies. All other animals, including wolf hybrids or wildcats, must be sacrificed for testing to protect the health of the human that was bitten. Unfortunately, the rabies incubation period is only known for dogs, cats, and ferrets.

If the animal dies within the 10 day period or rabies symptoms develop (i.e. inability to swallow, protruding tongue, or marked changes in the animal's disposition) the owner should notify the Benton Franklin District Health Department by calling 460 4200 immediately so that we can arrange testing of the animal. The animal must be tested for rabies to allow the victim to make the best decision about their health care choices.

What To Do If You Have Been Bitten

Immediately after you are bitten or scratched, gently wash the wound with soap and water for at least 10 minutes. Simply washing the wound is very important to minimize your risk of contacting rabies. After you have washed the wound, seek medical attention as soon as possible. If the wound is severe, go directly to the emergency department of your local medical center. If possible, locate the owner of the animal and get their name, address and telephone number.

Although the wound may not seem to warrant medical attention, you still should contact your medical provider as you may need to get a tetanus shot or a booster. At the medical facility you will be asked to fill out a bite report, which will be forwarded to the Health District.

If you choose not seek medical attention, please call the Health District at 460-4205 and ask to fill out a bite report. Please do not attempt to download and mail the bite report. It is best to call in the report right away so that we can notify the owner of the animal of the observation period immediately.   The report form can be used as a guide to the information you will be requested to provide over the phone.  Bite Report Form

District Response

The Benton-Franklin Health District will contact the owner of the dog, cat or ferret and ask that it be kept alive and impounded for a period of 10 days for rabies surveillance. Once the 10 day period has ended, we will contact the owner regarding the status of the animal. If the animal is alive and healthy, this will end the Health Department's involvement with the owner and the animal. At this point the animal will no longer need to be kept impounded.

If more than 10 days have past since the bite and you have not heard from the Health District, you can safely assume that the animal survived the 10 day observation period and there is no risk of rabies. You will only be contacted if you need to seek additional medical treatment or if the animal could not be located for impounding.

If you are bitten by a wild animal, you will still need to fill out and submit a bite report to the Health District. If you are able to safely capture the animal that bit you, please do so in order that it may be tested. Someone from our office will be in touch with you regarding testing of the animal. You will more than likely be advised to seek medical attention for the bite and to discuss with your doctor the options available to you. If you or your medical provider would like to speak to us or the State Epidemiologist Lab for more rabies information, please give us a call and we will refer you to the proper person.

What To Do If Your Pet Bites Someone

If your pet bites someone, call the Benton-Franklin District Health Department at 460 4200 to report the incident. Link to Bite Report information listed above (Click here to view the information needed for a bite report). It is better to call in the information than to mail in the report because of the timeliness of confining your animal. The victim will be asked to fill out the same report when they seek medical treatment. If the victim filled out the report, you will be contacted by the Health Department and asked for additional information about the animal (as indicated on the bite report). Most importantly, you will be asked to confine your animal for a 10 day observation period. This means keeping the animal on a leash or in a tightly fenced yard for a ten day period after the bite

It is extremely important that the animal be kept ALIVE during this 10 day observation period. If the animal dies or is put down, it will need to be tested in order to protect the victim from the possibility of contracting rabies. While the risk is very low, rabies is a fatal disease for which there
is no cure. If you, as the animal owner, are unable or unwilling to keep the animal alive for the 10 day surveillance period, you may take the animal to a veterinarian, kennel, or animal shelter and kennel the animal for the 10 day period. There will be a charge to you for kenneling the animal.

If the animal bit because it was already sick or injured and will not survive the 10-day observation period, please make arrangements with a veterinarian to put the animal down and contact us at the Health District to make arrangements for testing the animal. Do not attempt to put the animal down yourself as this may render the animal unable to be tested.

If your pet is an animal other than a dog, cat or ferret, it will need to be sacrificed for testing. Because the incubation period for rabies in animals other than dogs, cats, or ferrets is not known, we cannot safely confine the animal and be able to recommend treatment in a timely fashion to the victim. Treatment for rabies in a victim is only effective if given before symptoms show up. Once symptoms occur, it is too late for the victim and the result is death.

Rabies Vaccine

A vaccine for rabies is available for human victims. It is no longer a long set of pain shots in the abdomen. Today's rabies vaccine is a 5 shot series given in the arm over a 28 day period. (click here for more information about the human rabies vaccine).

If your pet has been bitten by a wild animal, it is recommended that you contact your veterinarian about getting a rabies vaccination, or a booster if your pet has already been vaccinated.

Safety tips to avoid being bitten by a dog

  • Don't run past a dog. A dog's natural instinct is to chase.
  • Don't approach a strange dog!
  • Let a dog see and sniff you before you pet it.
  • Keep your dog confined. Chaining your dog is not recommended.
  • Spay or neuter your pet. Unaltered pets are more likely to bite.
  • Obedience train your dog. Obedience training will make a happy dog and a happy owner.
  • Scold your dog when it is aggressive. Tell it in no uncertain terms "NO".


Bats and Rabies

Here in Washington the only known carrier of rabies is bats. In other states raccoons, skunks, foxes or coyotes can carry rabies. About 5-10% of the bats tested carry rabies. The bats that are tested usually are those that are caught because they are either sick or have been trapped. Probably less than 1% of all bats have the virus.

During the fall, bats are seen more often around human homes as they search for a warm, safe place to spend the winter

How Can I Avoid Being Exposed to Rabies?

  • Keep bats away from your living space.
  • Do not handle bats. If you find one lying on the ground, leave it alone, undisturbed, and keep your pets away from it. There may be many reasons why a bat cannot fly. Often this is a temporary condition and the bat will leave later.
  • Have your pets (dogs and cats) vaccinated against rabies. Make sure that you follow up with those vaccinations and associated boosters.

Description: http://www.bfhd.wa.gov/pics/house.gifHow can I keep bats from getting inside my home?

The simplest way is to build them out. Find the places bats can get inside a home and fix them. Some common ways bats can enter a home are:

  • Through loose fitting doors to the outside or attic
  • Open, unscreened windows
  • Unscreened chimneys
  • Gaps in outside walls.

Bats need an opening at least 3/8 x 7/8 inch to get in. You can tape over or plug the holes with steel wool, cover chimneys with a one half inch hardware screens, have doors fitted with draft guards and windows with screens. Bats do not chew holes so if the entrance to the home is not there, they are easily excluded.

If you find bats in your home, close up all but one or two of their entrances. After a few days the bats will get used to leaving by the openings that they can still use. Then one evening, after they fly out, close up these entrances. The best time of the year to do this is in the fall as baby bats are born in the spring and early summer. If bats are in your home you do not want to trap young bats inside your home.

Some people choose to put up bat houses. If you choose to use a bat house, place it well away from your home and out of the reach of children.

What Is Considered an Exposure?

  • If you have any physical contact with a bat (including being bitten or scratched).
  • If you find a bat inside your home. If you don't think you were bitten, but wake up with a bat in the same room you were sleeping in or if a bat is found in the same room as an unattended child, mentally challenged or intoxicated person, this can be considered an exposure.
  • If you are bitten or scratched by any wild or stray animal.

Bat bites and scratches are often not noticeable. Bat teeth are tiny and razor sharp. They leave a mark the size of a pin prick, which can be easily overlooked. Scratches are shallow and usually only a millimeter long. Because it can be difficult to find a scratch or bite mark, any physical contact can be considered an exposure.

What Do I Do If I Think I Have Been Exposed?

  • If you have been bitten, immediately wash the bite site with plenty of soap and lots of running water for a minimum of 10 minutes.
  • Notify your physician, clinic or emergency room
  • Call local health department (Benton-Franklin Health District's Phone number 460 4205).
  • If possible, catch the bat safely, avoiding direct contact. Use heavy leather gloves, a net, and tongs. Put it in a can and tightly cover it with a lid. Do not damage the head of the bats, because the brain is needed for testing. The Health Department will make arrangements with you to send the bat off for testing.

Bats should be captured only if there has been direct contact with a person or pet, or if the bat was found in the room of someone who might have been bitten. Once these bats are captured, they should be tested for rabies infection. Do not release a live bat, or throw out a dead bat, that has bitten or scratched, or has had direct contact with a person, unless Public Health has told you that it will not be necessary to test the bat.

The following ideas are offered as ways to safely capture a bat:

  1. Never handle bats with bare hands. Wear thick gloves to pick up the bat or pick up the bat with a shovel, or dust pan.
  2. Wait until the bat has landed. Place an empty can or waste-basket over the bat and slide cardboard underneath these to contain the bat.
  3. If the bat is still flying, try striking it with a broom, or tennis racket, in order to knock it down. You can also try to capture it in a net.
  4. If a bat is found dead, place the bat in a sealed can or jar, or place it in a plastic bag that is within another bag.
  5. Bats should be carefully placed in a container that can be sealed (such as a coffee can or plastic container with a lid).
  6. If you need help capturing a bat, certain pest control or nuisance wildlife companies can help you. Be certain that the company is familiar with Public Health guidelines and is willing to turn the bat over for rabies testing if necessary.
  7. Bats that will be sent to a laboratory for testing should be refrigerated (not frozen) until the laboratory can begin testing.
  8. Contact Public Health at 509-460 4200 to determine whether a captured bat should be tested for rabies. If you capture a bat after regular work hours, call Public Health on the next workday. Keep the bat in a sealed container, as described above, and store in a cooler or refrigerator until you have contacted Public Health.
  9. If Public Health has told you that it is not necessary to test the bat, and the bat is alive, you can release the bat outside and away from your home.

The information above was taken from
the Seattle and King Counties Public Health Website.

What happens if I have been exposed?

Once an exposure has been established, a post exposure set of 5 shots will be administered by your physician. The shots are no longer painful, nor injected in the stomach. The shots are administered in the upper arm. If the animal was able to be tested, the results of the test will decide whether or not post exposure treatment is necessary.

Bats do humans a service - an individual bat consumes hundreds of insects each night. They are a vital part of our ecological system and should not be destroyed indiscriminately.

Other Bats and Rabies related sites:



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Benton Franklin Health District
7102 W Okanogan Pl
Kennewick WA
(509) 460 4200
412 W Clark
Pasco WA
(509) 547-9737

Emergency Contact Information

Personal Emergency for Medical, Police, Fire, or Other: 911
Washington Poison Center: 1 (800) 222-1222 (www.wapc.org)
Washington Community Resource Information: 211 (www.win211.org)
BFHD Public Health Emergency/Imminent Health Hazard After-Hours Reporting: 509-543-3851
The public can reference BFHD policies available in Kennewick office.
BFHD Privacy Statement:English / Spanish
Copies of the annual report available at all BFHD offices.
State and County Resources
Rules and Regulations Administered by or Governing the Benton-Franklin Health District
WAC's - RCW's
Community Health Status Indicators
Reportable Conditions
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