Endemic rabies infection in the Pacific Northwest is essentially confined to bats. All abnormally acting bats (such as those present during daylight hours, appearing sick, or who bite humans) must be presumed to be rabid. In addition to obvious exposure, rare cases of unobserved exposure to rabid bats have been reported in Washington State and elsewhere. To determine if a bat is infected with rabies, laboratory tests on the brain tissue of the bat must be performed.
The public health nurse epidemiologist and health officer should be consulted for specific treatment recommendations. General guidelines to follow are:
- A bite from a bat or contact with saliva or urine from a bat is a significant exposure risk for rabies infection
- If a known exposure or possible unobserved exposure (i.e. to a sleeping adult or a young child unable to speak) to humans occurs, the bat should be:
- Caught only by an experienced individual wearing suitable protective gloves
- Euthanized by a veterinarian
- Refrigerated or placed in cooler with ice (wrap in plastic, do not allow direct contact with ice, do not use dry ice or allow specimen to become frozen)
- Submitted to Clallam County Environmental Health Services for packaging and shipment to the State Public Health Lab.
Rabies exposure should be presumed, and post-exposure treatment should be started if a significant exposure to a bat occurs and the bat is not available for testing.
Dogs & Cats
Rabies is extremely rare in domestic dogs and cats in Washington State. The last rabid cat was detected in 1976 and a possible case of rabies in a dog was noted in 1987. Human exposure to rabies is highly unlikely from domestic animals, especially those that have been appropriately vaccinated against rabies. In the rare event of an unprovoked attack from a cat or dog, an individual clinical assessment must be made.
If someone is bitten by a domestic dog or cat, the animal should be evaluated for abnormal behavior:
- Animals that seem sick or exhibit neurological problems should be evaluated by a veterinarian and, when appropriate, euthanized and submitted to the State Public Health Lab.
- Dogs or cats that appear healthy should be quarantined and observed for 10 days for signs of illness.
- If symptoms of rabies do develop during quarantine, the animal should be examined by a veterinarian and euthanized with submission of clinical specimen to the State Public Health Lab.
- If symptoms of rabies do not develop within this time period, the animal is presumed to be rabies-free and no post-exposure rabies treatment is necessary.
If a person is bitten by a wild dog or cat:
- The wild animal should be caught, euthanized, and submitted to the State Public Health Lab.
- If the animal is not available for observation and testing, the bite must be evaluated on an individual basis by a licensed health care practitioner. Healthcare practitioners are encouraged to consult the Health Officer regarding risk assessment and clinical recommendations.
Raccoons, rodents and lagomorphs (hamsters, guinea pigs, squirrels, rabbits, and hares) have never tested positive for rabies in Washington State. Unless the animal is behaving in a very unusual way or has had a confirmed bat exposure, testing for rabies is not recommended and no post-exposure treatment for rabies is indicated.
If a person is bitten by a mammal other than a dog, cat or bat:
- The bite should be evaluated on an individual basis
- When very unusual behavior is reported, individual assessment must be made by the health officer in consultation with local veterinarians and state officials
- In most cases, neither testing nor treatment will be necessary
- In very unusual circumstances, submission of clinical specimens to the State Public Health Lab and/or post-exposure rabies treatment of human contacts may be indicated