Keeping the summer rabies-free

Leaving windows open to catch summer breezes can help keep a house cool, but also might invite unwanted night creatures carrying harmful diseases into the home.

During the warmer months, people and their pets are more likely to encounter bats and may be exposed to the viral disease, rabies, which affects the central nervous system. Death typically occurs only days after symptoms begin.

“People are most often exposed to rabies when they handle bats,” said Washington State Department of Health (WSDH) Environmental Health Veterinarian Dr. Ron Wohrle. “Any bat that is found on the ground, has been caught by a pet or is found in the house could have rabies.”

In Washington, bats are the animal of most concern for rabies with roughly 7 percent tested positive in the last 20 years for rabies.

“Bats are a natural reservoir (for rabies),” said WSDH Zoonotic Disease Program Ben Hamilton. “They naturally can have it and share it amongst themselves.”

Hamilton said during the day bats go back to their living areas and roost and rabies may likely be transmitted in those close contacts. He added that bats are the only reservoirs in the region to be known to carry rabies, however pets and humans can be infected with the disease. Raccoons, coyotes and skunks can often be infected with rabies because they are known to eat bats.

Although most bats don’t carry rabies, if they are found flying during the day, appear sick or are unable to fly, they are most likely rabid.

If the necessary precautions and vaccinations are taken, Hamilton said, household pets will be resistant to the rabies disease. Up-to-date vaccinations are one of the only ways pets can remain safe. WSDH officials urge individuals to contact a veterinarian if their pet has had contact with a wild animal.

“Typical symptoms (of rabies in pets) begins with a distinct change in behavior,” Hamilton said. “Including a loss of appetite, fever, chewing at site where bitten and they may have a massive amount of aggression, that’s your typical Old Yeller type.”

Hamilton added that not all pets will react the same way if infected with the rabies disease. An animal may have paralysis, drooling and foaming from the mouth. He added that death can come within less than a week.

Though bats are migrating in the spring and fall, they may temporarily rest in unusual places such as attics. If a bat is found inside the house, close all doors and windows to the room and attempt to capture the bat with a box or can without touching it and using leather gloves.

After capturing the bat, WSDH officials advise to call the local health agency. Currently, only four bats have been tested positive for rabies in four counties, Grays Harbor, King, Mason and Ferry.

“It’s rare but it does occur. Sleeping and waking up with a bat in the room,” Hamilton said, adding in 1995 and 1997 there were two fatalities due to the rabies disease.

For more information about rabies and how to prevent contracting the disease, visit

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