Members of a Gig Harbor family are well after a close encounter with a bat in their home. They found it on Aug. 22 in an area between two bedrooms. The family followed proper handling procedures to safely capture the bat so state officials could test it for rabies. On Aug. 25, Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department received confirmation from the state laboratory that the bat was rabid. This is the second bat to test positive for rabies in Pierce County this year.
Because they found the bat near the bedrooms, the family may have had contact with it. The four family members—a husband and wife in their 30s and their two children under age 10—are receiving rabies vaccines as a precaution. Family members knew to contact the Health Department because they had seen recent media reports about bat exposures.
“It can be alarming to find a bat in your home, but the family did everything right to protect themselves,” said Nigel Turner, Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department Communicable Disease division director. “During the summer months, encounters between people and bats are more frequent so resident should take steps to protect themselves and their families,” Turner said.
What to do if you encounter a bat at home
In warmer weather, bats may try to find refuge from the heat indoors. If you find a bat in your home:
- Isolate—Close windows, room and closet doors; turn on lights and wait for the bat to land.
- Call—Contact the Health Department at (253) 798-6410 so we can help you determine if you need to capture the bat—dead or alive—for testing.
If instructed to capture the bat, follow these steps:
- Wear heavy leather or thick rubber gloves. Never handle a bat with bare hands.
- Place a container like a food storage dish over the bat, then slide the lid under the container and tape the top.
- Punch small air holes in the lid of the container using a nail or small screwdriver.
- Place the bat in a cool area away from children.
To test the bat for rabies, the Health Department may need it alive. If that’s not an option, make sure the bat’s head is not damaged because its brain stem is used for testing.
How to bat-proof your home
Bats provide many benefits such as pollination and insect control and it’s important to protect them in the wild. To keep them out of your home:
- Make sure open windows have intact screens, and keep doors without screens closed.
- Seal holes where bats can enter your home and roost.
- Contact a wildlife removal professional if you suspect bats are living in any part of your house.
What is rabies?
Rabies is a viral disease spread by infected animals. The infection rapidly destroys the brain and nervous system and is almost always fatal. Widespread vaccination of pets and domestic animals has resulted in very few cases of human rabies in the U.S.
Not all bats carry rabies but a small number do. Bats can spread rabies to people when an infected bat bites or scratches a person or comes into contact with a person’s mucous membranes (mouth, eyes, etc.). Bats have very tiny teeth, and it can be difficult to know if one has bitten you, especially if the person is asleep or a bat is found where a small child is sleeping. Learn more about bat exposure at www.tpchd.org/bats
On June 6, the Health Department received confirmation of the first rabid bat in Pierce County for the year. In that case, the bat bit a man who was working outdoors. He received treatment and is fine. To date, Department of Health has recorded 15 positive tests for rabid bats. In 2016, Pierce County had one bat test positive for rabies and statewide that number was 20.