Jefferson County residents and Washington travelers should take extra precautions this summer, as bat season recently began.
County health officer Thomas Locke notified the Jefferson County Board of Health during a June 21 meeting that the number of identified rabies cases is higher than in previous years, according to a report from the state. In diffusing any alarm, Locke followed his comment by saying, “The percentage of rabid bats have been stable.”
Just in May and June, there have been eight total positive rabies cases for 2018. Counties seeing cases of rabies in the bat population include Chelan, King, Thurston and Snohomish.
Those statistics are more than keeping pace with the 2017 numbers, which only showed six rabies cases by the end of June; the year ended with 22 total cases from May to October out of 376 bats tested.
Jefferson County was not among the counties having an animal test positive for the life-threatening virus, this year or last year: The last time a rabid bat was identified in Jefferson County was in 2013.
According to the Washington State Department of Health, bats are the primary animal carrying rabies in Washington, and between 3 and 10 percent of bats submitted for testing are found to be rabid.
The bats submitted to testing are more likely to test positive, because bats with rabies are more likely to be sick and injured and so are more likely to be captured and tested.
Locke said there was a major public education campaign telling the public to avoid the winged mammals, but if anyone is exposed, it is important to trap the bat so it can be checked for the virus.
“We assume the worst because you have one chance to treat rabies,” Locke said.
Responding to a board member's question about the spread of rabies from human to human, Locke said the infection can only be transferred through tissue transplants.
The DOH advised the public to not handle wild animals and to teach children to never touch or handle bats and to leave wild animals alone. The department also suggested not to keep wild animals as pets and to “bat-proof” living spaces.