BURLEY — A Burley wildlife rehabber who was bitten by a rabid Twin Falls bat is undergoing treatment and says a state protocol needs to be put in place to ensure medical professionals are up-to-date on rabies bite treatment.
Debbie Moeller said a man found the 3-inch-long brown bat on the ground in front of a downtown Twin Falls business and he drove it to Burley.
When Moeller attempted to transfer the bat on July 14 to a container to ship it to Animals in Distress, in Boise, which does wildlife rehabilitation, the animal bit through her glove.
“I felt all his little teeth go into my skin,” Moeller said. “But at that time it was only a questionable bat, and I didn’t know it had rabies.”
When Moeller removed her glove the bite marks were not really detectable.
“But I felt it when it bit and I knew what had happened and that it was considered a bite and I was in danger,” Moeller said, who had not received the pre-exposure rabies vaccine, because of the prohibitive cost of $1,500, which is not covered by her insurance.
A person has seven days to receive a series of injections after a bite from a rabid animal to prevent a case of rabies, Moeller said. At that time, Moeller said, the bat was not acting oddly, so she decided to wait and evaluate its behavior before contacting a doctor.
“At the time I was concerned but I was hoping the bat was injured and not rabid,” she said.
The bat continued to eat and drink for a couple of days and seemed fine and then it began refusing to eat and wouldn’t hang anymore, Moeller said.
On July 17, Moeller called a clinic where she sees a family physician, but her doctor was not in the office that day. The receptionist spoke with a medical professional on call, who relayed the message that Moeller was up-to-date on her tetanus shots and that she should watch for infection.
“I wasn’t sure that she’d understood me,” Moeller said, who recognized the medical response as incorrect.
She told the receptionist again that she’d been bitten and suspected the bat had rabies. The receptionist checked again and the medical professional repeated the same advice.
“If I was not an informed person and a wildlife rehabilitator, I could be dying of rabies right now,” Moeller said.
When a rabies bite is not treated in time it is almost always fatal, she said.
Moeller called her regular doctor the next day, who told her it was an emergency and she should go immediately to the hospital.
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At the first hospital she went to, Moeller said there was confusion over the bite treatment protocol so she called the state public health veterinarian, in Boise, who intervened on her behalf.
Moeller ended up going to another hospital for the injections.
She went to Minidoka Memorial Hospital on July 20 for the first of a series of injections to prevent rabies after a bite.
MMH had the rabies immune globulin, taken from vaccinated people, and the hospital staff told her they considered it an emergency and the hospital did not care if her insurance would cover the $5,000 to $6,000 costs.
“They totally rallied around me to get all the issues solved,” Moeller said.
The course of treatment requires four other injections besides the initial “most important one,” Moeller said. The injections, which do not particularly hurt, are spaced out over a period of time. She will finish the treatment on Aug. 2.
The injections, Moeller said, are not administered in a person’s stomach as they were years ago; rather they are placed in a muscle. She is receiving hers in her legs.
When she started treatment on July 20, she did not know that the bat, which died on July 19, was rabid.
The public health department sent the bat to Boise for analysis and Moeller received confirmation on Tuesday that the bat had rabies.
The South Central Public Health District said in a press release earlier this week that people should only attempt bat captures if they can do it safely and avoid contact with the bat.
This was the first bat this year to test positive for rabies in south-central Idaho.
Most bats are harmless and do not carry rabies, the release said, and they are the only animal in Idaho to naturally carry the virus. Most animals, including pets, can become exposed to the virus by playing with sick bats.
“Thankfully, I had some knowledge of rabies protocol, because 95 percent of the public is not informed and if a doctor tells them they are okay, they would believe him,” Moeller said. “My concern is there needs to be a statewide effort to get correct information about rabies exposure out to clinics and doctors.”
Moeller says she is “100 percent safe” at this time because she started treatment within the seven-day window.
If a person finds injured wildlife or an animal that is acting oddly, they should never touch or handle it, she said.
“I’m experienced in handling wildlife, and I was taking precautions and I still got bit,” Moeller said.