Mill Creek family facing thousands in medical bills after bat tests positive for rabies

MILL CREEK, Wash. – A Mill Creek family is warning others after one of the bats in their rafters tested positive for rabies. It’s forced the entire family to undergo precautionary anti-virals costing thousands, something they said could have been prevented.

Susan Kraushaar said she first found the bat last Tuesday. She said it was laying outside their garage door, dead. After hearing reports of rabies in Mill Creek, she put a bucket over the carcass and warned her family not to touch it.

“I told my son, don’t lift the bucket whatever you do,” she said.

That’s when Kraushaar said her son told her he knew all about the bat. He saw and heard their family cats playing with it the night before.

“I didn’t think it had rabies. I know the percentages are small,” she said.

But her ‘mom-radar’ told her different, so she said she decided to call the Snohomish Health District to inform them what her pets had found.

“I am thinking in my mind they would come and get the bat,” she said. “They say to put some gloves on and triple bag it, so one Ziploc inside of another, inside of a third and just discard it in the trash.”

“I asked them, will they test it and they said we won’t do that, unless it’s had human exposure.”

The Snohomish Heath District does not have the funds to test every dead bat found in residential areas. Unless it has come into contact with humans, they said, they will direct you to dispose of the carcass. Testing can be done, but it would be at the homeowner’s expense.

“You can pay to FedEx it yourself in a refrigerated container to an Oregon university,” Kraushaar recalled. “Pay $91 and they can do the test for you.

“I thought that’s a lot of money, but I might just be paranoid enough to do it.”

Kraushaar said she had talked herself into getting the bat, so she put on gloves and removed the bucket. She said that’s when she discovered there were two bats, one alive, one dead. She called the health district back, she said, and they suggested she contain the live bat and take it to a veterinarian to euthanize it. If she would like it to be tested, she can continue with the steps to FedEx the animal’s body to Oregon. In the process of trying to separate the bats, she said the live bat grazed her arm above the glove.

She called the Snohomish Health District back. They told her to call 911 about the exposure. The bat would now be tested by the county. She said the next evening she received a call.

“They said we have some bad news, the bat we tested, tested positive for rabies. You were exposed and you need to receive post rabies treatment,” she said they told her. She said she called her family doctor, who recommended the entire family be treated, not just her.

“He says not only do you need to be treated, but your whole family needs to be treated. If the cats had exposure to the bat, and the bat had rabies, your whole family needs to be treated,” she said. “I was scared to death.”

Kraushaar has since learned that treatment can cost upwards of $17,000 per person. For a family of four, without health insurance, that would start around $68,000. The Kraushaars do have health insurance, but the deductible on their plan is in the thousands.

Kraushaar said she wanted to share her story to warn other families. She said had she known the risks associated with the winged mammal were so high, she would have erred on the side of caution and had their roosts removed from their rafters years ago.

“It’s expensive but it’s a whole lot cheaper than medical bills and the other things that go along with this,” she said.

Kraushaar’s bat is the third positive rabies case in the county, the second in Mill Creek. Because only one of the bats was tested, Kraushaar said she’s concerned the other dead bat would have tested positive as well.

“If their advice is to throw them away, how many are going untested?" she asked. “In my heart, I believe it’s probably positive.”

Kraushaar said she would like to see the state actively testing bats that are found in residential areas that appear unwell or are dead. She said it’s a safety concern and in the public interest.

The Snohomish Health District said they’ve received more calls about bats being found in homes now that summer is in full swing and people are leaving windows open. They remind the public less than 1 percent of healthy bats are infected with rabies, but that bats out during the day or unable to fly are indications they could be sick.

If a bat has come into contact with a human or a pet, or found where people have been sleeping, you are asked to safely capture the bat and contact your local health district to determine the next steps.