A 59-year-old Washington state man is undergoing rabies prevention treatment after being scratched by a bat in front of Lake Crescent Lodge in Olympic National Park earlier this month.
The visitor, from Port Angeles, 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 sent 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 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, park officials said. "Any bat encounter or exposure should be immediately reported to a park ranger and the person should consult a health professional," they added.
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.