The Flutter in the Night 

D. E. Larsen, DVM

I woke slightly as something fluttered in the bedroom, but not hearing it again, I rolled over and went back to sleep.

“Dave, Dave, wake up!” Sandy said as she shook my shoulder.

I rolled onto my back and looked up at Sandy standing beside the bed with her shower cap on.

“Dave, there’s a bat in here,” Sandy said. She spoke in a hushed voice, but she still had a grip on my shoulder.

Then I noticed the flutter again.

“How did it get in here?” Sandy asked.

“Charlie could have brought it in, but he would have killed it,” I said. “Maybe it just came through the window with him.”

Charlie was our large Siamese cross cat who was a ferocious hunter. I had removed the screen on our bedroom window, and I left the window open enough so Charlie could come and go during the night. It was common for him to bring critters in and leave them for us, often at the foot of the bed.

“You need to get up and kill this bat,” Sandy said, shaking my shoulder again. “I’m going to make sure the kids have their bedroom doors closed.”

Sandy headed off down the hall in her nightgown and shower cap. I crawled out of bed and grabbed a magazine from the nightstand. 

Now standing naked with a rolled-up magazine, I positioned myself in the bedroom, where I could see the length of the hallway with the light that Sandy had turned on as she headed down the hall. As he entered the bedroom, I could see the bat swoop toward the ceiling. I waited till he turned to the left toward me, and I made one swat that caught him mid-flight and bounced him off the far wall.

“Get me a jar with a lid,” I said to Sandy as she returned from down the hall.

“Did you get him?” Sandy asked.

“Yes, but I need to put him in something,” I said. “We need to send this guy in to be tested for rabies.”

“What difference does it make?” Sandy asked.

“Were any of the kid’s bedroom doors open?” I asked.

“Yes, both Derek’s and the girl’s room had open doors,” Sandy said. “Why do you ask?”

“A rabid bat in a house with sleeping people or pets, especially sleeping children, is considered a rabies exposure by the public health people,” I said. “We need to send this bat in to be tested.”

“Wouldn’t they know if they had been bitten?” Sandy asked.

“The book says no, the bite and can be almost undetectable,” I said. “The risk of an exposure is too high, so everyone is considered exposed. Everyone has to get a post-exposure rabies vaccine.”

“What about Midge and the cats?” Sandy asked.

“Would you get a jar for me,” I said. “I’m starting to feel like an idiot, standing naked over a mostly dead bat, waiting for it to come back to life and fly away.”

Sandy retrieved a pint canning jar and lid from the kitchen. I carefully scooped the bat into the jar without touching it and screwed on the cap.

“Midge and the cats will be fine because they have rabies vaccinations,” I said. “I will have to booster them, but that is all. If they aren’t vaccinated, the recommendation is to euthanize them. Under special considerations, they can be kept in isolation for six months, but that is discouraged.”

“Six months seems like a long time,” Sandy said. “Why so long?”

“Rabies can have that long of an incubation period,” I said. “In fact, I think a dog in England came down with rabies after it was released from its six months of quarantine.”

“Are all of us going to have to get shots?” Sandy asked with obvious concern.

“The bat is in the jar. You can take your shower cap off,” I said. “We will worry about what we will have to do after we get the test results. There is no sense worrying about something that probably not going to be a problem.”

“I didn’t want that bat to get in my hair,” Sandy said as she put her shower cap back in the bathroom. “And you look pretty stupid running around naked with a rolled-up magazine in one hand and the bat in the other. It’s a good thing the kids are asleep.”

“Put this in the refrigerator, would you, please,” I said as I pulled a pair of pajama pants out of the drawer.

“I’m not putting that in my refrigerator,” Sandy said. “I will set it outside.”

***

I picked up the jar with the dead bat inside when I went out the door to go to the clinic.

“What are you going to do with that?” Sandy asked.

“I am going to send it to the diagnostic lab and have it tested for rabies,” I said. “I will have the courier pick it up on their noon trip.”

“If they consider we were exposed, won’t the county pay for the testing?” Sandy asked.

“The less the county knows, the better,” I said. “If this bat tests positive, we will have a big hassle with the county public health folks. They will be going by the book, and we will have to have all the kids and you take post-exposure treatment. I will probably only need to booster my rabies vaccine.”

I wrote the pathology request with a little story about Sandy in her shower cap and me batting the bat out of the air in the middle of the night. That report has been lost to history, but the pathologist got a kick out of it at the time.

We were lucky, and the bat tested negative for the rabies virus. At that time, about ten percent of the bats tested were testing positive in Oregon.

Photo by Todd Cravens on Unsplash.

Published by d.e.larsen.dvm

Country vet for over 40 years in Sweet Home Oregon. I graduated from Colorado State University in 1975. I practiced in Enumclaw Washington for a year and a half before moving to Sweet Home to start a practice.

4 thoughts on “The Flutter in the Night 

  1. I did not know that rabies was that common in bats! We have more of a fox-rabies connection (yes, I know other wild animals have it, too, but I am just not as aware of it).

    Thankfully the last decade Germany is thought to be rabies free. (Since 2008) They gave the foxes bait laced with a vaccination.

    I found an article, that bats have the closely related Lyssa-Virus here, and those virusses have an incubation period from a few days to a few YEARS ..

    But I will not panick just yet … Sometimes, during a warm summernight, even in this small town (half a million inhabitants) you can see the odd bat flying in the night.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. In different areas of the US the main animal carrying Rabies varies. It is the Raccoon in the New England state. Skunks in the midwest. Some states have a capture and test program that allows them to be more accurate about the incidence in their state. They use tge oral vaccine in baits in many areas. In Oregon we see rabies mainly in bats but we see an occasional case in foxes, coyotes, or other terrestrial animal. Oregon does not capture and test. They only test animals submitted. Therefore results do not reflect the incidence in the total population. So when they say that 10% of submitted bats test positive for rabies, that is from a population of bats displaying some form of abnormal behavior.

      Liked by 1 person

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