The bat that attacked a fisherman in the Deer Creek area, northwest of Hailey, tested positive for rabies, making it the first confirmed rabies case of the year in south-central Idaho and the second in the state.
The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare tested the bat in its Boise laboratory. Last year, eight bats tested positive for rabies in Idaho, the department said.
The fisherman wished to remain unnamed but recounted the peculiar attack in a phone interview with the Idaho Mountain Express.
He said it was late afternoon, July 9, on the creek when he saw a bat flying at him.
"I know animals. And bats should not be out in the daylight, period," he said. "It was kind of strange."
He said the bat did a few fly-bys before making a "kamikaze" approach straight for him. He swatted at the bat when it came close and didn't see it again. Thinking the bat had left, the fisherman said he stayed on the water for about 30 minutes before leaving.
He then packed his gear and took off his fishing vest, noticing that the bat was latched onto the back, chewing on the collar. He contained the bat, got it to the health department, and received treatment immediately.
Emily Simnitt, spokesperson for the Idaho Health Department, said treatment is simple and "highly effective" for preventing the rabies virus, consisting of a series of vaccines over a 14-day period. But it needs to be done immediately, because if a person waits too long and rabies is able to set in, the vaccination is no good. And the virus infects the central nervous system, ultimately causing disease in the brain and possibly death.
"If there's any question about exposure to rabies," she said, "call your healthcare provider and start treatment immediately."
Seeing symptoms means it's too late for the vaccine, but the early symptoms are similar to many illnesses: fever, headache and general weakness or discomfort. More specific symptoms appear as the disease progresses: insomnia, anxiety, confusion, slight paralysis, hallucinations and hydrophobia (fear of water). The Centers for Disease Control reports that death usually occurs within days of these symptoms.
However, the CDC said the current vaccine has proven nearly 100 percent successful against rabies when taken in time. The CDC said the number of American rabies deaths has declined from more than 100 annually in the early 1900s to one or two per year since the 1990s.
"In the United States, human fatalities associated with rabies occur in people who fail to seek medical assistance, usually because they were unaware of their exposure," the CDC said.
Bats are the only Idaho animal to naturally carry the virus and transmit it through biting or scratching. Simnitt said that failing to notice a bite or scratch is entirely possible. People who wake up to find a bat in the room may have had exposure without knowing it. The teeth of a bat are very small, and people can be bit in their sleep without feeling it.
The fisherman was aware of this.
"Bats rarely leave bite marks behind," he said, "but they leave rabies behind."
The health department advises people to have the bat tested for rabies if there's any question of exposure. The department charges no fee for this service.
Trevon Milliard: firstname.lastname@example.org
Tips to protect against rabies
· Do not touch a bat with your bare hands.
· If you have an encounter with a bat, seek immediate medical attention.
· Save the bat in a container without touching it and contact the health department to arrange testing. Whenever possible, the bat should be tested to rule out rabies exposure. Testing is free.
· Always vaccinate pets, including horses.
· Bat-proof your home by plugging all holes in the siding and having screens on windows.