Rabid bat bites Pasco baby

By Annette Cary, Tri-City HeraldMay 14, 2013 

A Pasco baby is being treated to prevent rabies after she was bitten twice by a rabid bat last weekend on her grandparents' deck.

Derek and Melissa Anderson learned Tuesday afternoon that the bat had tested positive for rabies. But they had taken their 11-month-old daughter, Alanna, to the emergency room and had treatment started for the rabies virus immediately after she was bitten three days earlier.

"Everything's fine. It's 100 percent curable," Derek said.

But that might not have been the case if Alanna's grandmother had not seen the bat land on her, he said.

Derek and Melissa had dropped Alanna off with her grandparents Saturday evening while they went out to dinner.

The evening was unseasonably warm and Dan and Sandra Anderson had Alanna out on the deck of their west Pasco house.

Dan was just opening up the deck umbrella, as Sandra started to walk out of the sliding door about 12 feet away.

As the umbrella was about a quarter of the way open she saw "something black flutter out toward Alanna," Sandra said. "It was weird. I thought maybe it was moths."

That's when she saw a small bat clinging to Alanna's back near her left shoulder.

Sandra flicked at it, but the bat didn't move. She flicked it a second time and it flew off.

The bat only had been on Alanna for seconds, but when her grandmother looked closely she saw two tiny pinpricks where the bat had been sitting near her shoulder and another pair in the center of her back.

Alanna had not cried, at least until she saw how upset her grandmother was.

At the Kadlec Regional Medical Center emergency department in Richland, the baby was given two immunoglobulin shots and started on a series of an additional four vaccine shots to be spread over two weeks. At that point they did not know the bat was rabid.

Because her grandmother touched the bat, she also is getting the series of shots, and, as a precaution, her grandfather is too because the bat fluttered past him, Sandra said.

Less than 1 percent of bats in the wild are rabid, but health officials urge caution after coming into contact with bats because rabies is almost always fatal without the injections.

"We take any type of exposure very, very seriously," said Heather Hill, communicable disease program supervisor for the Benton Franklin Health Department.

Neither of the last two people to die of rabies in Washington were known to have been bitten by bats, although both were known to have been close to them.

One was a 4-year-old child sleeping in her bedroom in Lewis County in 1995. A bat had been found in her room two weeks before she developed symptoms. She had no bite marks and had not complained that the bat had bothered her. But when the dead bat was dug up, it tested positive for the same type of rabies.

The virus is transmitted by saliva and there was speculation that the bat may have licked the skin near a scrape or around the mouth, nose or eyes.

But the bat's teeth are so tiny and sharp that even if someone is bitten, they might not realize it.

That means anyone who has contact with a bat, if a child is found alone with a bat or if someone wakes up to find a bat in their room, they should contact a medical professional.

"I'm thankful we saw the bat on her and could take her for treatment," said Sandra, who talked with the Herald Tuesday afternoon before the positive test results for the bat came back.

In the past, people feared the shots to treat rabies, which used to be given in the abdomen. But now they are given like any other injection, Hill said.

If people come in contact with a bat and then catch it, it can be tested for rabies, said Rick Dawson, environmental health specialist for the health department.

The Andersons thought they had seen the last of the bat when it flew off Saturday.

But Sunday the family was back on the deck for Mother's Day when they noticed something black inside the closed umbrella.

Dan left to get some gloves, but Derek wasn't waiting. He grabbed a piece of metal and hit the bat, killing it, Sandra said.

Then they turned it over to the health department for testing.

Because bats submitted for testing are often sick or injured, up to 10 percent of bats tested are found to be rabid. In 2012, nine rabid bats were identified in Washington state, although none was in the Mid-Columbia.

The deck umbrella is used frequently, Derek said. The only thing that may have been different last weekend was that Dan had just power washed the house, Derek said, possibly disturbing where the bat usually may have roosted.

Bats typically are not aggressive.

"If you avoid them, they avoid you," Dawson said.

Most are healthy and an important part of the ecosystem, killing insects like mosquitoes, Hill said.

-- Annette Cary: 582-1533; acary@tricityherald.com

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