Most bats are harmless, but a few carry rabies, a deadly disease which bats can pass on to humans through small bites and scratches, according to the Snohomish County Health District. Nine rabid bats were found in Washington last year, and one of them came from Snohomish County.
Bats like to “hang out” in vacation cabins, attics, barns and outbuildings, and wherever there are plenty of insects they can eat. A bat bit a toddler in Pasco this year after falling out of a patio umbrella. The toddler got treatment to prevent rabies even before it was confirmed that the bat had the disease.
Anyone who might have been bitten, scratched or simply sleeping in a room where a bat is later found should contact Snohomish Health District Communicable Disease staff at 425-339-5278. In the Northwest, bats are the only animal likely to carry rabies.
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. A South Carolina woman who died from rabies in 2011 had sought help for bats in her home, but was never referred to public health for advice about preventing rabies.
Bats found in a home or setting where they may have contacted humans should be safely caught and refrigerated. Call Snohomish Health District at 425-339-5278 to see if the bat needs to be tested. If a bat is not available for testing and people have been exposed to it, rabies shots are usually necessary.
To safely capture a bat, find a small container like a box or a large can, and a piece of cardboard large enough to cover the opening in the container. Punch small air holes in the cardboard. Put on leather work gloves. When the bat lands, approach it slowly and place the container over it. Slide the cardboard under the container to trap the bat inside. Refrigerate the container until talking with Snohomish Health District staff.
For more information about bats and rabies, visit the state Department of Health website.