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Rabid bats a risk in Washington during the summer months

Rabid bats have been found throughout Washington state and continue to pose a risk to people and pets, especially during the summer when bats are more active.

Five bats that were in contact with people or pets have tested positive for rabies so far this year. This is fairly normal, but health officials are hoping to raise awareness and keep this number low.

“There’s an ongoing risk of people and pets interacting with wild animals, including rabid bats,” said Ron Wohrle, veterinarian at the Department of Health.

“To help protect yourself and your pets, avoid contact with bats or wild animals and enjoy wildlife from a distance.”

Though only 1 percent of bats carry the rabies virus, people are more likely to come into contact with sick bats. Healthy bats usually avoid contact with people and animals and will not rest on the ground.

Bats that fly erratically, come out during the day, hang out on the ground or in bushes and otherwise act strangely may be rabid. Between 200 and 350 bats from Washington are tested each year following human or pet exposure – 5 to 10 percent of these bats typically test positive for rabies.

About 250 to 300 people per year in this state undergo a series of painful and expensive shots after they’ve had contact with a rabid bat or have been exposed to a potentially infected animal.

Bites or wounds from any animal should be washed right away with soap and water, and medical attention should be sought. Any bite, scratch or other direct contact with a bat should be carefully evaluated by a health professional.

Washington requires all cats, dogs and ferrets be vaccinated for rabies. Pets are also at risk for infection when they encounter wild animals. Protecting pets by keeping their rabies shots current is an important buffer between the disease and people. Even indoor animals should be vaccinated, since rabid bats have been found inside homes where pets live.

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