Rabies Rant I “Don’t Touch The Bat!”

Filed under: @ 2:20 pm

Bats are cool. Bats are cute. Bats are an important part of our ecosystem, helping to control pestilential insects and helping to pollinate night blooming flowers.

But don’t touch the bat!

A quick word on rabies virus in Washington state. Our ground wildlife don’t carry rabies. Washington is a “ground rabies” free state. We do have a resident population of bats that carry their own subspecies of rabies virus. The subspecies doesn’t really matter however, unlike other viruses that can be spread amongst mammals. While there is some debate on whether or not arboreal rabies is as acutely infectious to ground dwellers as other subspecies of the virus, you really don’t want to try it and find out, do you?

A sometime client called my office a couple of weeks ago. They had one pet on record, a cat that we’d not seen since he was adopted in 2009.
The client was calling, she said, because they’d found a dead bat in their front yard and they were wondering whether there was anything that they should be concerned about if their cat had been in contact with it. They didn’t


, she said, that the cat had killed the bat, but it was an indoor/outdoor cat.
Immediately my infectious disease alarm went into high overdrive.

“Tell her to lock the cat inside, keep everyone out of the yard around the bat, and to call the health department. They’ll need to test the bat for rabies. And make her an appointment to have the cat’s vaccines updated. We don’t have any history of rabies vaccination for this cat.”
My new, and rather inexperienced, assistant went back to the phone to relay my message.
The client’s reply?
They’d already thrown away the bat, they just needed to know whether or not there was anything they should be worried about if the cat came in contact with the bat.

“Tell her NOT to let that garbage can be taken away! And have her call the health department ASAP! The bat needs to be tested. And make her that appointment! The cat will have to be quarantined.”

So long story short…..

They’d found, and disposed of, the dead bat

    two weeks

previously. The client was sure that the cat couldn’t have been infected with rabies because it had been two weeks and the cat, who bites people by the way, was “fine”.

We pause while Margaret says words that blister paint and is fervently thankful that she doesn’t work for the state, nor for King County Department of Health.

I called the state, I called county health. And I unleashed a shitstorm.
Because the bat couldn’t be tested we have to assume that the bat was rabid (20% of the bats that are tested in King County are rabid).
Because the bat couldn’t be examined, we have to assume that the cat killed the bat.
Because we have to assume that the cat killed the bat and because there is no history of rabies vaccination, CONGRATULATIONS! You’ve just won your cat a SIX MONTH quarantine. Two weeks, in terms of rabies, is piddly shit.
And because we have to assume that the cat was exposed to rabies and because there is no history of rabies vaccination, CONGRATULATIONS!! Everyone, that is to say every. One. That has been in contact with the cat in the last two weeks now has to go through post exposure prophylaxis.

A quick word on rabies vaccinations and post exposure prophylaxis. The urban legend that everyone bandies about about the twenty five huge injections that have to be given into your stomach is way, WAY old news. If you’re exposed to rabies and you haven’t been vaccinated (I have) you get a HUGE WHACKING DOSE of rabies hyperimmune serum. Basically somewhere between 12 and 15cc of serum shot into your backside. Then you have to get a series of rabies vaccinations. When I was vaccinated it was three subcutaneous vaccines over a period of 10 weeks. It may be different now, but that’s the basic pattern.
The kicker on postexposure prophylaxis these days is that many insurance companies don’t pay for it. And it costs, or it cost one of my colleagues whose staff had all been exposed to a rabid kitten last year, somewhere in the range of $12-$30,000 apiece.

Bats are cute. Bats are a valuable part of the ecosystem. But if you see a bat during the day it’s a sick bat. And if it’s a sick bat you have to assume that it’s rabid.
For the love of God, DON’T TOUCH THE FUCKING BAT!!

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