Bats and rabies
Rabies is a preventable viral disease of mammals that infects the brain and spinal cord and is almost always fatal once symptoms begin. The virus is found in the saliva of an animal with rabies and is usually spread by a bite or scratch. Bats are the only known reservoir of rabies in Washington.
Although most bats are not infected with rabies, any potential human exposure to a bat should be evaluated by a healthcare provider for risk of rabies exposure and requires careful assessment because bat teeth are razor sharp and tiny and a bite wound might not be seen. Pets that have exposure to a bat should be evaluated by a veterinarian. Rabies can be transmitted by other mammals.
For more information, visit the Animal bites and rabies page.
The vast majority of bats don’t have rabies, but many species of bats live in King County and any of them can become infected with rabies. Bats with unusual behaviors, including inability to fly, flying during the daytime, making a lot of noise or otherwise acting sick, are more likely to have rabies. Rarely, a bat that has rabies can be aggressive. Healthy bats typically avoid contact with humans or animals and usually will not be found resting on the ground.
Rabies is spread when an infected bat bites or scratches a person or animal. People who have had direct contact with a bat should be assessed for possible rabies exposure.
Bats flying overhead and bats that have not had direct contact with people or animals do not pose a risk for spreading rabies. Situations in which someone wakes up to find a bat in the room they had been sleeping in, or when a bat is found in the room of an unattended small child, an intoxicated or mentally incapacitated person, or a pet, should be evaluated by Public Health for the potential that a bat bite or scratch might have occurred.
If a bat bites or scratches you, it is very important to clean the wound with soap and warm water for at least ten minutes and to talk to your health care provider or call Public Health at 206-296-4774 for guidance about treatment.
Rabies preventive treatment is effective at preventing rabies after an exposure if it is given promptly. Rabies preventive treatment includes one injected dose of rabies immunoglobulin and four doses of rabies vaccine given according to a fixed schedule over a 14 day time period. Persons with weakened immune systems need a fifth dose of vaccine given 28 days following the first dose.
Dogs, cats, and ferrets that are exposed to a rabid or suspected rabid bat should be vaccinated against rabies by a veterinarian immediately, even if the animal is up to date on vaccination, and should be kept under the owner's control and observed for any signs of illness or unusual behavior. Public Health can help determine the appropriate management of a pet exposed to a bat.
It is important to attempt to capture a bat that is known or suspected to have exposed a person or pet so that the bat can be tested for rabies. See the information below and watch the video below regarding how to capture a bat. Testing of the bat can confirm whether rabies preventive treatment is necessary.
If a person may have been exposed to a bat, call Public Health at 206-296-4774 or your health care provider.
If a pet may have been exposed to a bat, call Public Health at 206-263-9566 or your veterinarian.
Bats should be captured only if there has been direct contact with a person or pet or if the bat was found in the room of someone who is unaware about whether they might have been exposed.
Do not release a live bat or throw out a dead bat that has bitten, scratched, or had direct contact with a person or pet, unless Public Health has told you that it will not be necessary to test the bat.
To capture a LIVE bat:
- Wear heavy gloves (like leather work gloves) and long sleeves. Never handle a bat with bare hands.
- If the bat is still flying, wait until it lands. It will likely tire and land soon.
- Place an empty container, jar or cardboard box that can be sealed over the bat and slide cardboard underneath to contain the bat.
- Carefully slide the lid between the cardboard and the container, and seal the container.
- Punch multiple, small holes (less than 1/2 inch in diameter) in the container for the bat to breathe.
- Place the container in a quiet area away from heavy human traffic.
- Do not refrigerate, freeze, or kill a live bat.
- If you need help capturing a bat, certain pest control or nuisance wildlife companies can help you. Be certain that the company is familiar with Public Health guidelines and is willing to turn the bat over for rabies testing if necessary. The following services are experienced with bat control:
- NW Nuisance Wildlife Control at 425-820-7476
- Pest Control NW at 425-941-5001
- Critter Control at 206-431-6833
- Directory of Nuisance Wildlife Control Officers trained and regulated by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife
- Within the city of Seattle, Seattle Animal Shelter at 206-386-7387
- Notify Public Health at 206-296-4774. If Public Health determines that the bat needs to be tested for rabies, we can provide information on how to have the bat humanely euthanized.
To collect a DEAD bat:
- Never handle a bat with bare hands. Wear thick gloves (like leather work gloves) to pick up a dead bat or pick the bat up with a shovel or dust pan.
- Place the bat in a sealed container, jar, or cardboard box, or place it in a plastic bag that is within another heavy-weight plastic bag such as a zip-lock bag.
- Store in a cooler or refrigerator (not a freezer) until you have notified Public Health.
If you capture a bat after regular work hours, call Public Health on the next workday.
If Public Health determines that a live bat needs to be tested for rabies, we will provide information on how to have the bat humanely euthanized.
To request testing of a bat that might have exposed a person - Contact Public Health's Communicable Disease Control, Epidemiology and Immunization Section at 206-296-4774 during regular work hours to determine if testing of the bat is necessary. Public Health staff must pre-approve the testing of the bat for rabies which occurs at the Washington State Department of Health Laboratory in Shoreline and is free. After hours health care providers can call 206-296-4774 to reach Public Health staff on call for medical advice.
To test a bat that may have exposed a pet - Contact Public Health at 206-263-9566 or your veterinarian for advice. Testing of bats that have exposed animals is available for a fee through the Oregon State University Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory. Owners of animals that have been exposed to a bat are responsible for shipping the dead bat to the laboratory for rabies testing, or their veterinarian can assist them. See instructions on how to ship bats to OSU. Veterinarians who need information about the management of pets exposed to bats or how to submit bats for rabies testing can contact the Public Health Veterinarian at 206-263-8454.
If 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. A dead bat should be double-bagged in plastic bags and disposed of in the household garbage.
If Public Health tells you that it will not be necessary to test the bat, but the bat is injured, your local animal control office or a wildlife rehabilitator, such as PAWS Wildlife Center, may be able to help.
Bats found on the ground might be ill or simply immature flyers that are likely to fly away at dusk. If necessary, these bats can be moved to a quiet place where they will not come in contact with people or pets. Do not touch the bat with your bare hands.
Bats might enter homes accidentally or to roost. It is important to get bats out of homes to avoid possible human or pet exposures to rabies. A single bat most likely arrived through an open door, a window without a screen, or a chimney. Multiple occurrences indicate that additional steps might be needed to keep bats out of the home. Pest control services can help get rid of bats in the home. See more information at the Living with Wildlife: Bats page.
Vaccinate your pets to protect them against rabies. In King County, all dogs, cats and ferrets are required to have an initial rabies vaccination by the time they are four months of age and booster vaccinations must be kept current.
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