Zoonotics and Rabies

Learn about rabies and other diseases spread by animals

A zoonotic disease is any disease of animals that can be transmitted to humans, such as rabies or West Nile Virus. The term "vector" is used to identify the animal that harbors or transmits the disease to humans. Issues concerning zoonotic disease can be complex and may involve many agencies. Environmental Health Staff are involved in three primary activities related to zoonotic disease: education, coordination, and surveillance.

Living with wildlife    

Island County has an abundance of wildlife. Raccoons, skunks, foxes, bats, and many more. In Washington, bats are the only known mammal to carry rabies. While rabid raccoons, skunks, foxes, or coyotes have not been identified recently in Washington, the virus can be transmitted from bats to these mammals. To reduce the risk of rabies exposure for your family and yourself, avoid contact with wild animals and use the prevention guidance below.

How is rabies spread?

The rabies virus is found in the saliva and brain tissue of a mammal infected with rabies. It is usually spread to people by animal bites. Rabies could be spread if the virus comes into contact with mucous membranes (eye, nose, and respiratory tract), open cuts, or wounds. Other animal contact, such as petting a mammal infected with rabies or contact with its blood, urine, or feces does not result in infection. Person-to-person transmission of rabies has occurred only through tissue transplantation.

What do I do if an animal bites me?

Immediately wash any animal bite with soap and water. Contact your health care provider and Island County Public Health to determine the potential for rabies exposure and the need for treatment, and for authorities to decide if the animal should be tested for rabies.

Do not handle wild animals, especially bats

Teach your children never to touch or handle bats, even dead ones. Have your children tell an adult if they find a bat at home, at school, or with a pet.

  • If you see a wild animal, leave it alone.  
  • Do not keep wild animals as pets.
  • Keep bats out of your living space by "bat-proofing" your home.

Pets may get rabies if bitten by a rabid animal.  Protect them and yourself by getting them vaccinated routinely. Dogs, cats, and ferrets are required to be vaccinated in Washington state.