Whidbey woman recalls bat attack

In the last few weeks, Ann Medlock has heard every vampire joke imaginable.

Now, almost done with her rabies treatment after being bitten by a bat, the punch lines are beginning to be funny.

Medlock had a run-in with a bat outside her Clinton home last month. She was having dinner at dusk on her porch.

“Something hit my arm,” she recalled. “I saw a quick image of a small fluttering thing. And it was gone.”

Medlock said she thought a little bird or a big bug had made a navigational miscalculation and collided with her.

Later inside her home, she discovered dried blood on her arm and two tiny teeth marks.

“There was quite a bit of blood. And it bled the next day,” she said.

She still didn’t suspect a bat.

The realization didn’t come until days later, when she carpooled into Seattle with fellow islanders.

As Medlock shared her story about the strange encounter, one of the passengers in the car, a retired veterinarian, said the quick, night-time flyer with the sharp teeth may have been a bat.

“I told her that healthy bats don’t do that,” Chris Williams recalled.

The possibility of possibly having been infected with rabies was a shock to Medlock.

“Reading everything I could get my hands on that night, I learned that rabies is 100 percent fatal,” Medlock recalled.

“But what if it was just a bird? What if it was a perfectly fine bat who’d found some intoxicating berries and was just drunk? What were the odds that the one rabid bat on the island had decided to fly into me?”

Then there were the horror stories she had heard about the treatment for rabies: Huge syringes filled with vaccine that would be stuck in her belly.

The next day at her family physician’s office, the doctor told her that her skin had been broken and that she had to go through treatment. The good news was that no foot-long needles were involved.

The only way around treatment is if the animal can be trapped and tested. Results of those tests can determine whether or not post-exposure treatment is necessary. But because Medlock’s tiny attacker got away, she had to go through treatment.

Once an exposure was established, patients generally get a post exposure set of five shots administered by a physician.

“That was grueling,” Medlock said.

But she added that she was positively surprised that it wasn’t half as bad as she suspected. The modern shots are no longer painful, nor injected in the stomach, she said.

Despite the ordeal, there are no harsh feelings toward bats.

“They are good guys,” Medlock said. “They eat mosquitos. They are very positive neighbors.”

However, bat bites shouldn’t be taken lightly, health officials said.

Erica Martell, an Island County environmental health specialist, said it’s not uncommon that humans and bats have run-ins on Whidbey.

“Most people don’t take it serious,” Martell said. “But our most serious rabies exposure is bats.”

And if a bat bites a human, it’s likely that the bat is sick.

“Normal bats wouldn’t go after you,” she said.

Martell explained that if someone is exposed to a bat, the person should seek help, even if the person isn’t sure he was actually bitten.

“Bats teeth are so sharp, they can bite and you’d never know,” she said.

Bat bites and scratches are often not noticeable.

Bat teeth are tiny and razor sharp. They leave a mark the size of a pin prick. Scratches are shallow and usually only a millimeter long.

Because it can be difficult to find a scratch or bite mark, any physical contact can be considered an exposure.

Martell said it’s important to have anybody, especially children, checked out if a bat gets into the house.

Ignoring it is simply too risky, she said.

In Washington, the only known carrier of rabies is bats. In other states, raccoons, skunks, foxes or coyotes can carry rabies.

About 5 to 10 percent of the bats tested carry rabies. And bats that are tested are usually those that are caught. Probably less than 1 percent of all bats have the virus.

While Island County health officials haven’t seen a bat that tested positive in a few years, Martell said, people are encouraged to bring dead or live bats to the health department because the creatures may be the only way to prevent someone from getting treatment for rabies. But Martell also warned to never handle a bat without proper protection.

“If possible, trap the bat, without exposing yourself,” Martell said. “If you shoo the bat out of the window, we wouldn’t be able to test the bat. Otherwise your only option is going through a series of rabies shots, which can be expensive.”

Medlock added that the shots can be expensive but her insurance co-pay was reasonable. She has heard that some insurance carriers won’t pay for the treatment, however.

Medlock is almost ready to finish up her treatment, she said.

She is going in for her fourth set of shots this week.

Since she has shared her story with family, friends, neighbors and strangers on her blog, she has gotten hundreds of e-mails; some educational, some just plain funny, she said.

What’s left is the teasing. The leaders among the vampire jokesters are her two sons, she said.

“They’ve been merciless,” she said.

And just in case you wondered about the other side effects of bat bites, Medlock said she has no signs of vampirism.

“No fangs growing, no sleeping in a coffin and I’m doing just fine in full sunshine. People can now stop holding up crucifixes when I pass,” Medlock added.

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