BATS and rabies
IMPORTANT INFORMATION IF A BAT HAS BITTEN, SCRATCHED OR HAD DIRECT CONTACT WITH A PERSON OR PET:
If a person has been bitten or scratched by a bat, seek medical attention immediately.
Why should I be concerned about contact I or my pets have with a bat?
Bites, scratches or direct contact with bats is concerning because of the potential for transmission of rabies, a viral infection of the nervous system and brain that is almost always fatal. Bats can carry rabies. People and pets are typically exposed to rabies via a bite or scratch, when infected saliva from infected bat (or other mammal) penetrates the skin or comes into contact with mucosal membranes. Rabies is not transmitted by contact with blood, urine, feces, or fur. When a person or pet has been bitten or scratched by a bat, it is called an exposure. Having other direct contact with a bat may also be an exposure and should be assessed by a healthcare professional or Kitsap Public Health.
What if I find a bat in my home or living space?
Since bats and their teeth are very small, exposures can occur while sleeping without a person feeling it or having any visible signs. If a bat is found in a room where someone has been sleeping, or with an intoxicated person or an unattended infant or child who cannot reliably tell you that no contact with the bat occurred, it is important to call a healthcare professional or Kitsap Public Health for an exposure assessment.
If you witness a bat fly into your home and fly out again without having any contact with people or pets, there is no need for concern. However, if you are seeing bats in your home regularly or somewhat often, you may have a bat infestation and should contact a pest control company to help assess the situation and rid your home of any bat colonies that may be roosting there.
What should I do if I have a bat in my home or if I (or my pets) have had direct contact with a bat?
Do not release a live bat or throw out a dead bat that has bitten, scratched, or had any other direct contact with a person or pet, unless Kitsap Public Health has told you that it will not be necessary to test the bat. It is very important to attempt to capture a bat (see tips below) that is known or suspected to have exposed a person or pet so that the bat can be tested for rabies. Testing the bat is important because it can determine whether rabies preventive treatment is necessary. Often rabies preventive treatment can be avoided if the bat is tested for rabies.
Tips for safely capturing a bat:
- Do not touch the bat with bare hands.
- If you find a live bat in your living space, close the doors and windows to the room.
- Wait until the bat lands on the floor or a wall. Place an empty can, box, or wastebasket over the bat and slide cardboard underneath to contain the bat without touching it.
- If the bat is still flying, try gently striking it with a broom or tennis racket in order to knock it down. You can also try to capture it in a net. Be careful not to touch the bat or to hit it too hard; you do not want to damage the skull or brain, which is needed for testing.
- Wearing leather or other thick gloves, place the bat in a rigid container (e.g., coffee can or Tupperware) and seal it. Avoid touching the head. See further instructions on storage of the bat below.
- Place the sealed can or jar in a safe place, such as against the wall on top of a counter, where it can't fall or break until you get further advice about it from the Health District or your healthcare provider.
What if I (or my pets) have an exposure to a bat but it flies away before I can capture it?
If the bat flies away, we will not be able to test it and we will have to assume it was rabid.
In that case, we would recommend that anyone with an exposure receive rabies preventive treatment.
If you (or another person) have a clear exposure to a bat, such as a bite or scratch, you should contact your healthcare provider right away to follow up. If you are not sure whether you had an exposure, please call a healthcare professional or Kitsap Public Health and we will help assess the situation to decide if an exposure occurred. If we determine it was an exposure, we will refer you to your healthcare provider for treatment.
If your pet has had a clear exposure to a bat, such as being bitten or scratched, you should contact your veterinarian right away. If your pet catches a bat, or you find your pet playing with a bat, chances are it was an exposure, so you should also contact your veterinarian. If you are not sure whether your pet had an exposure, please call either your veterinarian or Kitsap Public Health and we will help assess the situation to decide if an exposure occurred. If we determine there was an exposure to your pet, we will refer you to your veterinarian for vaccination and we will advise both you and your veterinarian about the necessary observation/quarantine for your pet. Until you can have your pet's potential exposure assessed, be sure to keep you pet indoors or at least within your control in a fenced yard where it cannot interact with other animals.
What should I do if I have captured a bat that I think or know may have exposed my family?
Do not touch the bat with bare hands. (See Tips above)
It is important that you follow these handling instructions:
- For a live bat, punch a few very small holes (less than 1/2 inch in diameter) in the container or lid for the bat to breathe. Place the sealed container in an area where it won't be accessible to other people, accidentally knocked over, or broken. Call Kitsap Public Health for further instructions. Do not refrigerate or freeze a live bat.
- For a dead bat, store in a container (e.g., coffee can or Tupperware) inside a cold cooler or refrigerator until you have talked to Kitsap Public Health about the bat.
- Call Kitsap Public Health at 360-728-2235 and we will determine if testing is needed.
- If you capture a bat after regular work hours, follow the storage instructions above and call the Kitsap Public Health District the next business day.
- If we tell you the bat needs to be tested, we will provide further instructions at that point.
- If Kitsap Public Health has told you that it is not necessary to test the bat and the bat is alive, you can carefully release the bat outside and away from your home. Be cautious not to touch the bat while releasing it. Wear thick leather gloves while removing the lid from the container and open it facing away from you and other people. A dead bat should be doubled bagged in plastic bags and disposed of in the household garbage. Again, thick gloves should be used to avoid any direct contact with the bat even if it is dead.
How do I get a bat tested for rabies?
Call Kitsap Public Health at 360-728-2235 and we will determine if testing is needed.
If it is after regular work hours, please call us the next business day. If you have already captured the bat, be sure to follow the storage instructions above.
If we determine the bat needs to be tested, we will approve the testing and provide further instructions to you at that point.
What happens if I (or my pet) have an exposure to a bat that tests positive for rabies?
If someone has been exposed to a bat that tests positive for rabies (or a bat that is not available for testing), Kitsap Public Health will recommend that the person receive rabies preventive treatment.
Pet dogs, cats, and ferrets that have been exposed to a rabid bat (or a bat that was not tested) need to be vaccinated (or re-vaccinated) and observed for between 45 days and 6 months, depending on the type of animal and its vaccination status.
What happens if the bat I submitted tests negative for rabies?
You can breathe a sigh of relief! A negative test means the bat was not rabid. If you have already started rabies preventive treatment based on your exposure to that bat, you can stop the treatment. Similarly, you could discontinue the observation of your pet; however if your pet was not up-to-date on their rabies vaccine, you still need to vaccinate your pet.
IMPORTANT: If you know for certain that a person (or pet) has been bitten or scratched by a bat, seek medical (or veterinary) attention immediately.
Healthcare providers can call our 24-7 consultation services if advice about exposures or testing is needed.