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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.
How 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:
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.
- Through loose fitting doors to the outside or attic
- Open, unscreened windows
- Unscreened chimneys
- Gaps in outside walls.
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?
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.
- 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.
What Do I Do If I Think I Have Been Exposed?
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.
- 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.
The following ideas are offered as ways to safely capture a bat:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Bats should be carefully placed in a container that can be sealed (such as a coffee can or plastic container with a lid).
- 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.
- Bats that will be sent to a laboratory for testing should be refrigerated (not frozen) until the laboratory can begin testing.
- Contact Public Health at 509-460 4205 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.
- 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: