SEATTLE – Health officials in King County are sounding the alarm about a potentially dangerous health risk to the public as several people are being treated for rabies exposure.
A fraternity confirmed to Q13 News that a University of Washington sophomore is undergoing expensive rabies vaccinations after being bitten when he picked up a bat last weekend.
“It’s a serious health matter,” said student Ian Spendlove, “Something could have gone way more wrong than it did.”
Spendlove, Lambda Chi Alpha UW fraternity president, says one of his brothers was bitten by a bat that later tested positive for rabies.
“The whole event is not something to laugh about this could have been much worse than it actually was,” he said.
Health officials say it happened near Husky Stadium when the student picked up the animal – and before he knew it he was bitten.
“Little kids noticed it,” said Spendlove who did not identify the impacted students. “He went over there, checked it out, put his hand near it and (it) ended up latching onto his hand and biting him.”
“He picked it up, which was not a smart thing to do,” said Dr. Jeff Duchin with Public Health – Seattle & King County. “The bat was sick, which was an indication, the fact he was able to pick it up was an indication the bat was sick.”
The incident spurred county health officials to issue a warning about the danger of rabies around Puget Sound.
“This is just the beginning of the season, the activity is starting to pick up,” said Duchin. “We’re expecting more and more people to see bats and come in contact with bats and we want them to be able to take precautions to protect themselves and know not to touch the animal and know what to do (if they do) have contact for some reason.”
Spendlove says the bitten brother returned to the frat house Saturday with the bat when more than a dozen people were inside. Health officials have urged anyone else who may have had contact with the animal or its saliva to also seek immediate medical care.
“Once symptoms develop, it’s almost 100 percent fatal,” said Duchin. “Virtually everyone will die.”
It’s been 20 years since someone last contracted rabies in our state, say health officials. It’s a rare event. So far this season two bats have tested positive for the disease in King County, one in Snohomish County and none yet in Pierce County. The exposure rate in King County so far this year has doubled from last year.
“We’ve had almost 40 people report exposures but for almost all of those we didn’t have the bat available so this is the first one where we’ve had a rabid bat and an exposure,” said Duchin.
Two additional fraternity brothers sought medical attention Wednesday out of an abundance of caution, according to Spendlove. The incident is a stark reminder about the dangers of handling wild animals, especially when they’re not afraid of humans. Spendlove said he is telling his brothers to keep their hands off the wildlife.
“Don’t go up and just touch them,” said Spendlove. “If they don’t have a collar on, don’t go messing with them.”
Health officials say fewer than 1% of bats have rabies but now is the time to be cautious when finding any that are on the ground, or appear lethargic. To keep them out of homes, the public is urged to keep your doors closed or install screens on windows and entryways.