A student found a bat that tested positive for rabies lying behind Husky Stadium, picked it up and got bit. Then he carried the sick animal to his frat house, where health officials worried others were exposed to the life-threatening disease.
A few people have received emergency medical help after a University of Washington student carried a rabies-infected bat more than one mile from Husky Stadium to his fraternity house Saturday afternoon after the sick animal bit him and latched onto his hand, health officials said Wednesday.
Dr. Jeff Duchin, health officer for Public Health — Seattle & King County, said at a news conference medical professionals have treated the student with a preventive vaccination, and he will be OK. One or two other people who were also in the bat’s proximity received medical evaluations out of caution. Health officials do not consider them at high risk.
A member of Duchin’s team visited the frat house, Lambda Chi Alpha, late Tuesday to talk to members about the incident and check on their health, he said — following an urgent warning from the department in which officials feared multiple people were exposed to the life-threatening disease.
“We believe we have not any other people who are at high-risk for rabies exposure, which is excellent,” Duchin said.
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The student apparently found the bat lying behind Husky Stadium near Union Bay’s water around 2 p.m. Saturday, picked up the animal and then got bit. He brought it back to his frat house for a while and then sought medical treatment at the university’s emergency room, Duchin said.
“The fact that he was able to pick it up is an indication that the bat was sick — bats don’t typically allow themselves to be touched or captured,” unless they’re not healthy, he said.
State public health officials notified the county agency of the bat’s positive test for rabies Monday.
Further details on the fraternity member, including age or name, were not immediately known.
Also unclear was how or by what route the infectious bat traveled approximately 1.3 miles between Union Bay and the fraternity, located in the 4500 block of 19th Avenue Northwest.
At the news conference to explain the case, which the health department streamed live on Facebook, Duchin educated viewers about rabies in general, a viral disease that spreads through animal bites or scratches and is almost always fatal once symptoms appear. “Virtually, everyone will die,” he said.
But with what health professionals call “post-exposure treatment,” which consists of four vaccination shots over the course of two weeks, potential rabies patients are protected and will survive.
A total of three bats have tested positive with the disease across all of Washington so far this year, according to tallies by the state Department of Health. In 2017, the agency recorded almost two dozen bats with rabies statewide, nearly the same total as the year prior.
Meanwhile, nearly 40 people in King County alone this year have reported being around or touching a bat — twice as many people as usual for this time of year, Duchin said.
And in those cases, like most, disease-response officials were not able to locate and test the animal for sickness.
“This is not going to be the last time we have a person contacting a bat in King County,” he said of the fraternity member. “As the season (summer) progresses, there will be more and more of these type of situations.”
A majority of bats do not carry the disease, which affects a person or animal’s central nervous system.
Washington has not had a case of human rabies in more than two decades, Duchin said.
Health officials urge people who notice bats showing erratic behavior, like struggling to fly or lying on the ground, to stay away from the animals and call the Public Health — Seattle & King County‘s disease-response division at 206-296-4774.
Anyone bitten or scratched by a potentially rabid animal should wash their wound with soap and water first, according to the department. Then, they should call a health-care provider or the disease-response division.
And because some bite marks are small or shallow, meaning they are hard to spot, officials recommend anyone who was sleeping or intoxicated near a bat to contact a health-care professional no matter the circumstance. Also, unattended children or people who have mental or physical disabilities should always seek medical help.
Washington state law requires rabies vaccinations for dogs, cats and ferrets.