Some people may have chuckled when they heard last week that a bat was found in the Governor's Mansion in Olympia, but Gov. Gary Locke and his wife are taking it seriously and are following the advice of experts.
The Lockes and their month-old daughter, Emily, have begun a series of vaccinations as a precaution against rabies. They have received a one-time shot of rabies immune globulin and the first of five shots of human diploid cell rabies vaccine. The shots will continue for three more weeks.
The Lockes don't know if they were bitten, but they aren't taking any chances.
"Bat teeth are very small, and it's possible to miss a bat bite," said John Grendon, a veterinarian with the state Department of Health.
Locke's bat experience began last week when he arose from bed in the early morning to change Emily's diaper and saw a bat circling over his bed. Locke chased the bat into the ballroom and slammed the door.
Exterminators called to the mansion could not find a bat, but Thursday night, Locke again spotted one. He opened several windows and forced it to leave.
The Lockes' precaution is understandable. The Jan. 18 death of a Shelton man, whose name has not been released, has been attributed to rabies believed to have been carried by a bat, according to the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. It is not known how he may have come in contact with a bat.
The last previous rabies death in the state was a 4-year-old Lewis County girl, who died March 16, 1995, after being licked or bitten by a bat about a month before her death. That was the first rabies death in the state since 1939.
"We have had two cases of people dying from rabies in Washington in the past two years," and neither victim showed visible evidence of having been bitten, said Paul Stehr-Green, a state epidemiologist.
Symptoms of an infection begin to appear in three to four weeks after exposure. By then, it may be too late.
"Once the symptoms of the (rabies) virus appear, the disease is nearly always fatal," said Marcia Goldoft, another state epidemiologist with the Health Department.
Rabies shots once were painful but are less so now, Stehr-Green said. The shots are now given in the arm instead of the stomach and are virtually 100 percent effective.
"Bats now are coming out of hibernation," Grendon said. "These mammals are very beneficial to humans and the environment. They eat millions of insects, but a small number of them also carry rabies. So, if you see a bat, leave it alone."
Captured bats are tested when they are suspected of having exposed people or animals to rabies. About 10 percent of these bats carry rabies.
Grendon said it is not possible to be infected by having a bat fly nearby.
Information from Associated Press is included in this report. Links to related Web sites about bats and rabies are on The Seattle Times Today's News Web site at: http://www.seattletimes.com
----------- Rabies tips -----------
To avoid rabies, the state Department of Health advises:
-- Make sure your cats and dogs are immunized against rabies. Don't let them play with a bat. If they do, call a veterinarian for instructions.
-- Never handle a bat. The rabies virus is carried in the bat's saliva.
-- If you find a bat in your house, safely trap it against a wall with a large can and slide thick paper across the opening, and take the captured bat to the Health Department for testing.
-- Keep bats out of your house and other buildings by filling holes with steel wool or a caulking compound. Cover openings into the attic with durable screening and install screens on windows likely to be open in warm weather. Some bats can enter a building through a hole as small as three-eighths of an inch.
-- If there is even the remotest possibility you or your family have been exposed to rabies, call your doctor immediately.