OLYMPIA, Wash. -- The Washington State Department of Health says a dozen bats found in parks and homes have been found since Aug. 1.
Health officials say they regularly test and find rabid bats, but these numbers are the highest in a decade.
"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."
In 2016, twenty rabid bats were identified across the state -- up from nine in 2015.
Seattle area's Dustin Condley got quite the scare recently in the middle of the night; a bat flying above his bed. He says he quickly grabbed a camping tarp to shield himself.
“I was able to trap it in the bathroom for the night. I left it in there and went back to bed. And then the next morning I opened the bathroom. I grabbed a broom and I started poking around to see if I could flush it out. There was some clothes hanging in my shower so I gave the clothes a good whack and the bat fell down on the ground,” says Dustin.
Dustin says he chased the bat down his hallway and may have gotten away through a heating vent. He’s not sure if the bat was rabid, but Dustin did report the incident to public health officials and has since begun a series of rabies vaccinations just in case.
In mid to late summer bats are more active, nesting and feeding their young.
This means there is more interaction between bats and humans and more of a potential to be exposed to bats with rabies.
Bats flying overhead pose no danger, it’s the ones on the ground or in your homes you should worry about.
“Bats normally don’t want to be around people,” said Dr. Jeff Duchin, health officer of Public Health-Seattle & King County.
Duchin says animals with rabies act abnormally, so bats with the disease struggle to fly.
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 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.
At least 15 rabid bats have been tested statewide this year, including one in Pierce County and three in Snohomish County. That number is about normal, health officials said.
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 Snohomish 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.