Avoid Possible Exposure to Rabies by Keeping Clear of Bats

For more information, contact Kim Papich (509) 324-1539 or

SPOKANE, Wash. – June 29, 2016 – Spokane Regional Health District (SRHD) officials remind individuals that bats are active this time of year, which means the possibility of exposure to rabies is increasing. 

Around the same time last year, a rabid bat bit a child in Spokane County, resulting in vaccination of both the child and mother. Although it was the first confirmation of a rabid bat in the county since 2007, last year’s incident is prompting officials to remind people to take precautions. 

“In that scenario, contact with the bat couldn’t be avoided and prompt administration of treatment was highly effective, but ideally direct contact with any bat should be avoided,” said Dr. Joel McCullough, SRHD interim health officer. 

Rabies is a preventable disease caused by a virus that people and other mammals can get through the saliva of a rabid animal. It is usually spread to humans by animal bites but can also be spread if saliva from a rabid animal comes into contact with a person’s eyes, nose, or mouth, or open cuts or wounds. In Washington state, bats are the only carriers of rabies and rabid bats have been found in almost every county. 

People usually come into contact with bats when pets bring them home, when a bat gets into a home through small openings or open windows, or when they wake up to find a bat in their room. A bat bite or scratch may not be seen or felt due to the small size of a bat’s teeth and claws. 

A potential rabies exposure should never be taken lightly. If untreated, rabies is fatal. The last reported human cases of rabies in Washington state were in 1995 and 1997. 

Continued Dr. McCullough, “Although most bats are harmless and do not carry rabies, people should never handle live or dead bats. To protect yourself and your loved ones, your safest bet is to simply presume that every bat is rabid.”   

Rabid animals may show unusual behavior or appear unstable and may become aggressive and attempt to bite people, pets and livestock. To protect yourself and your pets, SRHD offers these tips:

  • If a person:
    • Has contact with a bat,
    • Finds a bat in the home, or
    • Wakes up to find a bat in his or her room,
  • They should:
    1. wash any bite or wound with soap and water,
    2. contact their doctor, clinic or emergency room, 
    3. contact Spokane Regional Health District Zoonotic Disease program (509) 324-1560 ext.7,
    4. safely capture the bat, if possible. Use heavy leather gloves, a heavy towel, or tongs. Put it in a can and cover with a tight lid. Do not damage the head of the bat because the brain is needed for testing.
  • Never touch a bat with bare hands, even a dead one. Do not disturb resting (“roosting”) bats.
  • Always vaccinate pets—even indoor pets could be exposed to rabies if a bat gets into a home. Household pets and other animals can be exposed to the virus by playing with sick bats that can no longer fly normally.
  • Bat-proof homes and cabins by plugging all holes in the siding and maintaining tight-fitting screens on windows.
  • Parents should teach their children to avoid bats and to let an adult know if they find one.
  • Take precautions when camping, hunting or fishing. Avoid sleeping on the open ground without the protection of a closed tent or camper. Keep pets on a leash and do not allow them to wander.

While it is estimated that less than 1 percent of bats in the wild carry rabies, 5 percent to 10 percent of those tested are rabid. This is due to the fact that a sick or injured bat is more likely to be tested. Every year, SRHD’s Zoonotic Disease program sends an average of 15 bats to Washington State Public Health Laboratory for rabies testing.

For more information on rabies in Spokane County, go to Statewide information is available on the Washington State Department of Health website here, and national information on the U.S. Centers for Disease Prevention and Control web page located here. SRHD’s Epidemiology program is also available for consultation at (509) 324-1442. Become a fan of SRHD on Facebook to receive local safety and wellness tips. You can also follow SRHD on Twitter @spokanehealth.