In Washington, bats are the primary source of rabies. Each year many bats test positive for rabies across the state. Pet encounters with sick bats are one of the primary ways pets are exposed to rabies, and their owners can be exposed when they take the bats away from their pets. Cats are the most commonly affected domestic animal nationwide, with twice as many cats testing positive for rabies as dogs.
Coming into contact with an infected bat could be life-threatening without post-exposure rabies vaccination. People should never handle a bat; it may be infected with rabies. If you’re exposed to rabies you must get treatment immediately. Once symptoms develop it’s too late. The most recent human rabies cases in the state were in 1995 and 1997, and the last domestic animal in Washington to test positive was a cat in 2002.
There was a time early in our state’s history when rabies was rampant in King and Pierce counties, with numerous animals and people contracting the disease. Since rabies vaccinations began many years ago there’s been a dramatic decrease in animal rabies cases.
In many countries worldwide, rabies occurs widely in domestic animals, especially dogs. Animals imported from these countries are a potential risk of exposure to other pets and people. State and federal rules are in place to ensure that imported animals have proper vaccinations and medical records.