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Rabid bat bites visitor

Island County residents are urged to do their best Mariners pitcher impression and fear dangerous bats.

Actually, the county health department was referring to the mammal, not the one used in baseball. But bats are the number one carriers of rabies in the county - as one Whidbey Island visitor found out earlier this month.

“This person was from another country where they don’t have bats,” Island County’s Public Health Officer Roger Case said. “He just picked it up by the wing and tossed it off the driveway and it bit him.”

Case said this instance was unusual because the man’s neighbor trapped the bat and kept it. After the bat died a few days later, it was turned in to the Island County Health Department. It sent the bat to the state for testing, and within 24 hours, it had received the bad news that the bat was infected by rabies.

Case said he quickly contacted the man, who was visiting on the south end of the island, and informed him of the situation.

Rabies, which affects the nervous system, is almost always fatal within 10 days in humans if untreated.

According to the county’s Web site, early symptoms of rabies are non-specific, but often include pain or paralysis at the bite site. The disease progresses to an acute neurologic phase characterized by delirium, convulsions, muscle weakness, and paralysis. Spasms of the swallowing muscles can lead to a fear of water (hydrophobia), and may be precipitated by blowing on the patient’s face (aerophobia).

The man was able to begin the treatment for rabies exposure, which involves six shots over a month, before he left for home. An immediate dose of immunoglobulin, which aids in producing antibodies against the rabies virus, is given. That is followed by an immediate dose of rabies vaccine. Four more doses of the vaccine follow on day three, day seven, 14 and 28.

In Island County, Case said that between 8 and 9 percent of bats tested have rabies. Most people who are treated for rabies exposure result had an encounter with a bat. Usually people don’t know if they’ve been bitten, Case said.

“They have such small teeth that they usually can’t bite people,” Case said.

Bats are beneficial because they help control insects. A single bat can eat 1.25 times its body weight in bugs each night. Brown bats, which are common on Whidbey, can get up to 1,200 insects in an hour.

There are 15 species of bats the inhabit the Puget Sound region. Health Department Director Tim McDonald said that nine of those species can be found on Whidbey.

“There’s millions of bats on this island,” Case said.

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