A woman on a work site in Snohomish County came into contact last week with a bat that later tested positive for rabies, according to the Snohomish Health District.
It’s one of three bats in the state that have tested positive for the disease, something not uncommon during summer’s in Washington.
The bat did not appear to have bitten the woman, but did have contact with her skin, said Amy Blanchard, communicable disease manager for the Snohomish Health District.
Tests at the state Department of Health lab in Shoreline confirmed that the bat had rabies.
Rabies is spread through the saliva of an infected animal. The virus can be spread to humans if infected saliva has contact with the eyes, nose or mouth of a child or adult or by a scratch in the skin.
Rabies is almost always fatal, but it can be prevented through prompt medical attention following a bite or other exposure to the rabies virus.
When people have direct contact with a bat that later tests positive for rabies they are treated with a rabies immune globulin shot and then receive a series of four shots.
So far this year, three bats captured in the county have been tested, but only one has tested positive for rabies, Blanchard said.
The countywide public health agency investigates contact between people and bats. Anyone finding a bat in their bedroom when they wake up is advised to call the public heath agency to discuss the chances that they have been bitten or scratched by a bat.
The other two bats that have tested positive for rabies in Washington this summer were from Skagit County and the Chelan-Douglas county areas, said Julie Graham, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Health.
Last year, 11 bats from around the state tested positive for rabies.
Reports of contact between people and bats increase in the summer time, starting in June and building as the summer goes on, Blanchard said.
Summer is breeding season for bats and also a time when young bats are learning to fly.
Health officials are reminding people to never touch bats with their bare hands and be suspicious of bat activity during daylight hours, since it could indicate that the bat is ill.
In the Pacific Northwest, bats are the most common carrier of rabies.
In the fall, bats either go into hibernation or migrate to warmer climates.
“We use a rule of thumb about bats: A human being should never be able to touch a bat in any normal circumstance,” said Charlie Powell, a spokesman for Washington State University’s School of Veterinary Medicine. “If you can, there’s something wrong with the bat and you shouldn’t touch it.”
Rabies rates in bats typically have been reported at 5 percent to 10 percent. However, a study conducted in Canada and reported in Science Daily last year said the number is closer to 1 percent.
Bats play a vital role in the environment, Powell said.
“Bats do a lot of good,” he said. “They are extraordinary at mosquito control.”
Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Children or adults who have had direct contact with a bat are advised to call the Snohomish Health District at 425-339-5278 to discuss the likelihood of a bat bite or scratch.
Only bats that have had contact with humans will be accepted for rabies testing.