What Is Rabies?

Rabies is a severe viral disease that affects the central nervous system. It is almost always fatal. All warm-blooded mammals including humans are susceptible to rabies.

What Are The Symptoms?

While early symptoms include headache, fever, and sometimes pain at the site of the exposure (bite), the disease rapidly progresses into a severe nervous system (neurologic) illness. Symptoms may include agitation, confusion, paralysis, and difficulty swallowing. Most patients die within a few days or weeks of onset.  Symptoms normally appear two to eight weeks after exposure, but the incubation period may vary.

How Is Rabies Spread?

The rabies virus is found in the saliva of a rabid animal. It is usually spread to humans by animal bites. Rabies could potentially be spread if the virus comes into contact with mucous membranes (eye, nose, respiratory tract), open cuts or wounds. Person-to-person transmission of rabies has occurred only through tissue transplantation.

What Mammals Carry Rabies?

Bats are the primary animal that carry rabies in Washington. Between 3-10% of bats submitted for testing are found to be rabid. Bats tested for rabies are more likely to test positive for rabies because they tend to be sick and injured; less than 1% of bats in the wild are infected with rabies. Rabid bats have been found in almost every county in Washington (see rabies activity in Washington).

While rabid raccoons, skunks, foxes, or coyotes have not been identified recently in Washington, the virus can be transmitted from bats to these mammals.

What Can I Do Reduce The Risk Of Rabies Exposure For My Family And Me?

  • Do not handle wild animals, especially bats.
  • Teach your children never to touch or handle bats, even dead ones. Have your children tell an adult if they find a bat at home, at school, or with a pet.
  • If you see a wild animal leave it alone.
  • Do not keep wild animals as pets.
  • Keep bats out of your living space by bat-proofing your home.
  • Pets can get rabies if bitten by a rabid animal. Protect them and yourself by getting them vaccinated routinely. Dogs, cats, and ferrets are now required to be vaccinated in Washington. Consult your veterinarian for vaccine recommendations.

What Should I Do If An Animal Bites Me?

Clean the site of any animal bite with soap and water. Contact your health care provider and local health department to determine the potential for rabies exposure, the need for treatment, and to decide whether or not to test the animal for rabies.

What Should I Do If I Find A Bat In My Living Space?

Never handle a bat with bare hands. Only capture bats that have had direct contact with a person or pet, or if the bat was found in the room of someone who may have had contact with the bat. Instructions for safely capturing bats for rabies testing are available on our Bat Exposures webpage. Call the Chelan-Douglas Health District Monday-Thursday at (509) 886-6400 or after hours and weekends at (509) 886-6499 so we can help you determine if the bat needs to be tested for rabies.

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