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School district says talk to kids after rabid bat found on King County playground

WOODINVILLE, Wash. — Officials are encouraging parents to ask their children if they touched a bat recently.

Public Health Seattle & King County says a rabid bat was found at Bear Creek Elementary School on Monday morning in Woodinville. Northshore School District Spokesperson Lisa Youngblood Hall says the bat was alive.

A school district official removed the bat and sent it to Public Health for testing. Tests came back positive Tuesday.

Twenty-two bats have tested positive for rabies in Washington State this year.

Youngblood Hall says it doesn't sound like anyone touched the bat before it was found by officials, but is encouraging parents to talk to their

children.

"We want parents to talk their children, gently, so they don't think they're in trouble," Youngblood Hall said. "We want to find out if they touched a bat recently at the school or somewhere near the school."

Any parent who believes their child touched the bat is encouraged to call their health care provider. Also, contact Public Health at 206-296-4774 for information on preventative treatment.

Woodinville is surrounded by wildlife, Youngblood Hall says, and it's not unusual to see bats in the air. In fact, more have been spotted recently, she said.

In 2016, 20 rabid bats were identified across the state -=- up from nine in 2015. Twelve rabid bats have been found since August.

"Whether the rise is due to increased public awareness or other factors is not clear," the health department wrote in a statement. "What is clear is that many members of the public are doing the right thing: alerting local health officials if a family member or pet encounters a bat."

Are rabid bats rare?

Though Washington has seen an increase in rabid bats this year, they're not that common.

It's estimated that fewer than one-tenth of 1 percent of bats have

rabies, Twin Falls' Magic Valley News reports. 

There have been two cases of human rabies in Washington during the last 25 years, the state health department says. A 4-year-old child died of rabies four weeks after a bat was found in her bedroom in 1995. A 64-year-old man was diagnosed with rabies in 1997. He was also infected by a bat.

Almost all human cases are due to exposure outside of the United States with a rabid dog bite. Still, all human cases of rabies in the United States since 1980 have been due to a bat rabies virus.

What are the symptoms?

"Anyone who touched or had contact with the bat or its saliva could be at risk of getting rabies, which is almost always fatal once symptoms begin," said King County Public Health Dr. Jeff Duchin. "Fortunately, rabies can be prevented if treatment is given before symptoms appear, so identifying anyone who has had contact early is important."

The early symptoms include fever, headache and weakness and they take weeks to develop.

Pets are also at risk, so contact your vet if you believe they came in contact.

What should I do if I find a bat in my living space?

  • Never handle a bat with bare hands.
  • Only capture bats that have had direct contact with a person or pet, or if the bat was found in the room of someone who may have had contact with the bat (i.e., someone was sleeping in the room or building where the bat was seen).
  • If you think direct contact between a bat and a person or pet may have occurred, do not release the live bat or throw out a dead bat, unless your local health department has told you that it will not be necessary to test the bat.

What should I do if an animal bites me?

  • Clean the site of any animal bite with soap and water.
  • Contact your health care provider and the health district to determine the potential for rabies exposure, need for treatment, and to decide whether or not to test the animal for rabies.

 What can I do reduce the risk of rabies exposure for my family and me?

  • Do not handle wild animals, especially bats.
  • Teach your children never to touch or handle bats, even dead ones. Have your children tell an adult if they find a bat at home, at school, or with a pet.
  • Keep bats out of your living space by bat-proofing your home.
  • Pets can get rabies if bitten by a rabid animal. Protect them and yourself by getting them vaccinated routinely. Dogs, cats, and ferrets are now required to be vaccinated in Washington. Consult your veterinarian for vaccine recommendations.
  • People often call a pest control company to get rid of bats in or near their home. Those companies should also refer people to the Health District to make sure the client was not exposed to rabies.