Animal Bites and Exposures

Zoonotic diseases are illnesses that are spread to humans from animals and insects, such as Rabies, West Nile Virus, Hantavirus, Q Fever, and Salmonellosis. Walla Walla County Department of Community Health (WWCDCH) staff work to prevent the occurrence and spread of zoonotic diseases by educating the public and providing consultation to people about potential disease-carrying animals and insects and conducting investigations and surveillance to identify the presence and source of zoonotic diseases.

A complete list of zoonotic diseases in Washington can be found on the Washington State Department of Health’s website.  

Bats, Animal Bites & Rabies

Rabies
Rabies is a fatal, but vaccine preventable viral disease that is transmitted through the bite or saliva of an infected animal. All mammals have the ability to carry and transmit the disease to other mammals, but there are only 5 species in the United States known to be a source (or reservoir) of rabies. Bats are the only known reservoir of rabies in Washington state. 

Although less than 1% of wild bats in Washington are believed to be infected with rabies, any potential exposure should be evaluated because the bites are so tiny, a wound may not be seen. 

Symptoms: 
Signs in animals can include abnormal behavior such as aggression (and lack of fear of humans in wild animals), paralysis, biting at imaginary objects, and excessive drool or foaming at the mouth. In bats, abnormal behavior may include being grounded, paralyzed, aggressive to people or other animals, or extendedly active during the daylight. Symptoms generally appear 2-8 weeks after exposure but can vary up to months. Once clinical signs appear, the disease is 100% fatal. 

Prevention:
Rabies can be prevented by vaccinating pets against rabies, avoiding contact with wildlife, and seeking prompt and appropriate medical attention after potential exposure. This can include if you have been bitten, scratched, or believe you may have been bitten or scratched. 

Rabies in Bats:
Rabid bats have been found in almost every county in Washington, including Walla Walla County.  The most recent case of a rabid bat in Walla Walla County was in 2023. Learn more about rabies activity in Washington

Bats have small teeth and claws, so bites or scratches may be difficult to see. If you are unsure about a bat exposure, call the Walla Walla County Department of Community Health immediately at (509) 524-2650.

If you find a bat in your living space, do not touch the bat. Only capture bats that have had direct contact with a person or pet, or if the bat was found in a room of someone who may have had contact with the bat. 

Rabies testing is available through WWCDCH for bats that have come in contact with humans or for bats that are found inside a person’s living space. If your pet has been exposed to a bat, call your veterinarian so they can help arrange for the bat to be tested through the Washington State Public Health Lab.

Dogs, Cats and Ferrets that have bitten a human must be observed for 10 days to watch for signs of rabies. If a dog, cat or ferret becomes ill or dies within the 10-day observation, call WWCDCH immediately at (509)-524-2650 rabies testing may be required. Dog bites should also be reported to the local animal control authority. The Animal Exposure Report must be submitted to WWCDCH for follow up.

Mosquitos
mosquito icon
Disease can be spread to people and animals through the bite of an infected mosquito. West Nile virus (WNV) is the most commonly spread mosquito-borne disease in the United States. WNV has been detected in nearly all counties in Washington state, and has been detected in humans, horses, birds, and mosquito samples in Walla Walla County. Learn more about how to West Nile virus, including symptoms, prevention, and additional resources at our new West Nile page. 



Rodent-borne diseaseHantavirus

Hantavirus is a virus carried and primarily spread by certain rodents. There are only a few rodents in North America known to carry the virus, including deer much which can be found throughout North America, including Washington state.   It is estimated that about 15% of the deer mouse population are infected. Hantavirus can cause a rare but deadly disease called Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome (HPS).

Hantavirus is spread through the urine, droppings, and saliva of an infected rodent. People can become infected when contaminated droppings and nesting are stirred into the air.  You can also get infected by touching mouse urine, droppings, or nesting materials that contain the virus, and then touching your eyes, nose, or mouth. It is possible, yet even more rare, to get HPS from a mouse or rat bite. The disease does not spread person-to-person.

Symptoms of Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome generally begin to show up within 1 to 8 weeks after exposure. Early symptoms can include fatigue, fever, muscle aches, dizziness, chills, and headaches. As HPS progresses, symptoms develop into tightness in chest, which is caused by fluid buildup in the lungs. HPS has a 38% mortality rate in those who develop respiratory symptoms. 

Minimizing exposure to rodents through pest control and safe cleaning practices is the best strategy to preventing HPS. 

Preventing Rodent Infestations | U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Prevenga las Infestaciones por Roedores | Agencia de Proteccion Ambiental de Estados Unidos 

Safely Cleaning Up After Rodents | Washington Department of Health
Cómo limpiar los desechos producidos por roedores sin riesgos | Washington Department of Health

For more information:


Ticks

tick lifecycle size comparisonGoing hiking? Prepare for ticks as the warm weather hits! Here are some Hiking Tips from the CDC.

Removing a Tick

  • Promptly remove the tick using fine-tipped tweezers. Grasp the tick as close to the skin surface as possible and pull upward with steady, even pressure. Avoid removing the tick with bare hands. Don’t twist or jerk the tick — this may cause the mouthparts to break off and remain in the skin. If this happens, remove the mouthparts with tweezers.
  • Tick Removal 
  • Photo courtesy of Washington State Department of Health After removing the tick, disinfect the bite site and wash your hands.
  • Note the date that you found the tick attached to you, just  in case you become ill. If a fever, rash, or flu-like illness occurs within a month, let your doctor know that you were bitten by a tick. This information may assist your doctor in diagnosing your illness.
  • tick removalFor more information regarding ticks, visit the Washington State Department of Health’s website

Bed bugs


Bed bugs are not known to transmit human diseases, but they can cause skin welts, local inflammation, and contribute to insomnia. Bed bugs have been found in homes, apartments, rental units, and even hotels throughout Washington with increasing frequency. The WSU Extension fact sheet on Bed Bugs provides more information on recognizing bed bugs, signs of bed bug infestation, and pest management approaches.

Information for tenants