August 18, 2014
Rainey McKenna, 360-565-2985
Barb Maynes, 360-565-3005
A 59-year old Port Angeles area man is undergoing rabies prevention treatment after being scratched by a bat in front of Lake Crescent Lodge in Olympic National Park on August 12.
The visitor was sitting on the shore of Lake Crescent around dusk when a bat flew out of a nearby tree and landed on him. The visitor knocked the bat to the ground, receiving a scratch in the process. The visitor used a towel to capture the bat and alerted park staff.
Park staff packaged and transported the bat to the Clallam County Environmental Health Department for rabies testing and the visitor began preventative treatment for the rabies virus. On August 16, test results confirmed the bat had the rabies virus.
"We're very glad that this incident was reported to us and that the person involved is receiving treatment," said Olympic National Park Superintendent Sarah Creachbaum. "Rabies exposure is extremely rare, but fatal if untreated. Anyone observing unusual or aggressive behavior among park wildlife, including bats or other mammals that approach or appear fearless of humans, should inform a park ranger as soon as possible."
There are only two other known cases of rabies in bats in Olympic National Park. In 1975 a child was bitten by a bat in the Elwha Valley and in 2008 a woman was scratched by a bat in the Ozette Campground.
The risk of acquiring rabies is extremely low, but the disease is fatal if not treated early after exposure, making it vitally important to treat any possible threat of exposure seriously. Since there may be no visible bite mark or scratch left on the skin because of a bat's small tooth size, bat bites may go undetected. Any bat encounter or exposure should be immediately reported to a park ranger and the person should consult a health professional.
Visitors are advised not to handle or approach bats. Bats, like all wild animals in the park, are generally fearful of humans and will avoid people. If an animal does not move away or moves closer, visitors should move away and maintain a distance of at least 50 yards. Wild animals – especially those that seem 'tame' – can pose a potential hazard to people, whether through the spread of disease or through direct physical contact.
Bats are important and enjoyable parts of the Olympic ecosystem, where they are often seen as they feed on insects after dark. Worldwide, they are major predators of night-flying insects, including pests that cost farmers billions of dollars annually.
More information about bats and rabies exposure is available at the Centers for Disease Control website, http://www.cdc.gov/rabies/exposure/animals/bats.html, the National Park Service Public Health Program website https://www.nps.gov/public_health/index.htm, and on the Olympic National Park website https://www.nps.gov/olym/planyourvisit/wildlife-safety.htm.
The National Park Service Public Health Program is providing assistance and monitoring the situation in conjunction with the State of Washington vector disease program.