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Health authorities warn of rabies risk from bats

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The number of King County residents being treated for possible exposure to rabies this summer is slightly above normal, public health officials say.

"Don't touch bats," warned Sharon Hopkins, chief of zoonotic (animal-to-human) disease control for Public Health -- Seattle & King County.

Bats are the main carriers of the virus in Washington, Hopkins said. More than 60 county residents have reported contact with a bat (usually a dead or sick one) this summer, she said, and an above-average number of them, 45, are being vaccinated to prevent potential infection.

"If you get this disease, you die," she said. The vaccine is effective only if used before symptoms appear, she said, and treatment costs $1,500 to $2,000.

In 1995, a 4-year-old Lewis County girl died after getting rabies from a bat. Hopkins said parents and health officials didn't recognize in time that she had been exposed.

People who touch a bat are encouraged to take it in for free testing at the public health lab at Harborview Medical Center. If the tests are negative, treatment is unnecessary. In King County this year, one out of every seven bats taken in for testing has been positive for rabies. Experts believe fewer than one in 100 wild bats are rabid.

"People should make sure their pets are up to date on their rabies shots," Hopkins added. If an unvaccinated dog or cat comes into contact with a bat, it will have be put in quarantine for six months or, depending upon the circumstances, euthanized.

For more information, see the health department's Web page on rabies at or call 206-296-4600.

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