Rabies is a preventable viral disease most often spread through the bite of a rabid animal. The disease almost always is fatal once symptoms start.
The best way to avoid rabies is to vaccinate pets and avoid animal bites or encounters with bats. If you are exposed, seek medical attention and contact the health department to assess whether rabies vaccination is advised.
Almost every day each summer, the Thurston County Public Health and Social Services Department receives reports of animal bites or bats found in people’s homes. It is important to know what to do to avoid being bitten or what to do if you are bitten.
COMMON REASONS FOR BITES
• Getting between fighting dogs
• Feeding wild animals (raccoons, squirrels and others)
• Leaving very young children unsupervised with an animal
DOGS AND CATS
Most of the animal bite reports we receive are of cat or dog bites. The Health Department follows up on reports by contacting the animal owner to verify whether the animal is current on its rabies vaccination. If the animal is not current, or has never been vaccinated for rabies, the owner is instructed to keep the animal confined to his or her property for 10 days after the bite. This allows time to confirm that the animal is healthy and to avoid starting unnecessary rabies treatment for the person who was bitten.
Of the more than 4,000 dogs and cats tested across the state during the past 20 years, only one was found to be rabid.
BATS IN THE HOUSE
In Washington state, bats are the main carrier of rabies.
Since 2003, six of the 137 bats tested from Thurston County were found to be rabid. If you have a bat in your house, call the Health Department at 360-754-3355, ext. 7392. A bat found in the house should not be released unless you are sure no one has been exposed to it. If the bat was in a room with a sleeping person, especially a child, the bat needs to be tested.
BENEFICIAL PART OF OUR ENVIRONMENT
Bats consume a truly staggering number of bugs to our benefit. That said, it is important to keep them out of your home by having screens on windows and filling in gaps or holes that could allow them to get into the attic or into walls to roost. More information about bats and rabies is available on the Health Department’s Web site at www.co.thurston.wa.us/health/ehvec/index.html.
WHAT TO DO
Vaccinate your pets against rabies and keep their vaccines current, for their health as well as yours. Enjoy wildlife from a distance ... don’t feed them. Keep bats out of your house. Seek medical attention for an animal bite. In Washington state, only two human cases of rabies have been reported in the past 50 years. Although rabies is a very rare disease, we do know it is deadly, and we know of ways to prevent it.
Dr. Diana Yu is the health officer for the Thurston County Public Health and Social Services Department, 412 Lilly Road N.E., Olympia, 98506. For information from the Health Department, call 360-786-5581.
For information about bats in Washington state, go to www.batsnorthwest.org.