Rabid bat numbers across state highest in decade for August
OLYMPIA, Wash. -- Washington state is seeing an increase in rabid bats, according to the state Department of Health.
Since Aug. 1, 12 bats found in parks and homes around the state that have tested positive for rabies. That’s the highest number for August in a decade, according to the state Department of Health.
Officials have found 21 bats this year that tested positive for rabies in the state, according to the news release.
Jeff King of Maple Valley had a close encounter with a bat inside his bedroom earlier this summer. The bat turned out to be rabid.
“He flies right out from under my bed trailing a dust bunny,” King said. “This guy was flying against the walls, bonking into the walls, hitting the floor, rolling around and trying to take off. He was obviously sick.”
King said he tried to get the bat out of his room, but it flew onto a small shelf attached to a wall near his bed and wedged itself into a statute.
“I felt really bad for the guy. He was really cute,” King said.
King brought the bat to a state lab in Shoreline, where it tested positive for rabies. It was the first bat to test positive for rabies in King County this year, King said.
“And I said, ‘Do I get some kind of reward because now I have to go through this misery and expense of getting the shots?’” King said.
The number of bats submitted for testing in August was higher than in years past, according to the state Department of Health. That could be due to a number of different factors, including increased public awareness, said Epidemiologist Hanna Oltean.
“It could, however, mean that people are really having more interactions with bats that are precipitating them sending in more bats for testing, so that is a possibility. But we can’t verify that,” Oltean added. “We want to prevent any possible situation in which a person might contract rabies because it is considered 100 percent fatal.”
King said he isn’t sure if the bat he found in his bedroom ever made contact with him, but he got a series of shots as a precaution.
He had a close friend die of rabies years ago.
“We watched him die until he could not be present in our community anymore and was in hospice,” King said. “And it was a horrible thing.”
It was an incredibly difficult time, King said.
But he’s learned that bats are an important part of the ecosystem.
“They’re very important,” he said. “You shouldn’t have a vendetta against bats.”
“Bats are fantastic for the ecosystem. They eat insects that are pests or that can otherwise spread disease. And so they are a very positive part of our ecosystem. What we are looking out for is direct contact between humans and bats because bats are our primary reservoir for the rabies virus,” Oltean added.
The Washington State Public Health Laboratories test between 200 and 300 bats ever year. Normally, about 3 to 10 percent are found to be rabid, according to the release.
King believes all of us should take precautions around them.
“It’s a little bit of a worry, but there’s a lot bigger worries when you’ve got three children and two teenage boys,” King said.
Most recently in Seattle, rabid bats were found in the Ballard neighborhood and Green Lake.
The state Department of Health advises people to call your local health department if you believe a person or pet has made contact with a bat.