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4 rabid bats found in Wash. state in May, highest count since 1998

File photo from King County Public Health

SEATTLE - Health officials say four bats tested positive for rabies last month in Washington state - the highest number in 20 years during the month of May.

According to King County Public Health, rabies is dangerous and potentially life-threatening, but can be treatable if caught early before symptoms begin. The virus is found in the saliva of an animal with rabies and is usually transmitted by a bite or scratch.

One of the four rabid bats found last month bit a Unversity of Washington student on the hand. The health department said several other people were likely exposed to the rabid bat while attempting to help the man remove the animal from his hand.

While any mammal can be infected with the rabies virus, bats are the most common animal that carries rabies in Washington state.

In 2017, 22 bats were tested and found to have the virus. This is up from 2016 when 20 rabid bats were identified.

The state Health Department lab tests between 200 and 300 bats per year. Typically, between 3 and 10 percent of the bats submitted for testing are found to be rabid.

Health officials advise people to avoid contact with bats and other wild animals. Anyone who does have contact with a bat is advised to safely capture it, if possible, and keep it contained away from people. Then call the local health department for the next steps.

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