September 15, 2021

The Multnomah County Health Department said today that a bat found in Northeast Portland has tested positive for rabies, according to results from the Oregon Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory. This is the first animal to test positive for rabies in Multnomah County since September 2014. 

Multnomah County has no record of a human case of rabies.

“Rabies is a deadly disease. Fortunately it's rare because of the requirement for pets to be current on rabies vaccine,” said Multnomah County Communicable Disease Services Manager Lisa Ferguson. “Please make sure your pets are up to date on their vaccines so they are protected. And if you see a bat, avoid it. If you think you may have been bitten, scratched or are concerned about contact with a bat, report it because you may need just-in-time rabies vaccines.”

The bat was discovered the Northeast Portland neighborhood of Grant Park on Sept. 11 after a dog was found playing with it. The dog is up-to-date on its rabies vaccine, received a just-in-time rabies booster and will complete a 45-day at-home quarantine.

Rabies is a viral disease of mammals that attacks the nervous system. Rabies symptoms in wildlife include lethargy, walking in circles, loss of muscular coordination, convulsions, irritability or aggressiveness and disorientation. 

Animals typically acquire rabies by eating or coming in contact with a rabid bat. Relatively few bats in Oregon have rabies, and rabies in other wildlife is even more rare. About 8 percent of the bats tested in Oregon are found to have rabies, according to the Oregon Health Authority. So far, in 2021, 10 other bats in the state have tested positive for the virus. 

But Roger Rodriguez, bat research and monitoring coordinator with the Northwestern Bat Hub at Oregon State University, said bats brought in for testing are more likely to be sick. In studies in wild bat populations, not just bats brought in for testing, fewer than 1 percent of bats test positive for rabies. 

Bats are nocturnal animals, and spotting one during the day could suggest the bat is sick. Sick bats are more likely to be sedentary, or may be seen flopping around on the ground or otherwise acting unusual. If you find a sick bat or other sick wildlife on your property, take children and pets indoors and do not handle the animal without protection. 

Check out the CDC’s advice on how to capture a bat.

Anyone who finds a dead bat should use a disposable container with a lid to scoop the animal into the container and dispose of it in the trash. But if you know or suspect the bat had contact with a person or pet, the bat should be tested for rabies.

If you know your pet has encountered a bat or been bitten by a wild animal, call your veterinarian, Multnomah County Animal Services or Multnomah County Communicable Disease Services for guidance.

  • Multnomah County Animal Services: 503-988-7387
  • Multnomah County Communicable Disease Services: 503-988-3406

Oregon State’s Roger Rodriguez, who has studied bats for 20 years and received his share of bites, encouraged people not to be overly fearful of bats and to appreciate how they help the environment. Anyone who hates mosquito bites can thank a bat for chowing down on the insects, for example. And bats are a major agricultural pest controller, he said. In fact, one study estimated bats are worth more than $3.7 billion in pest control services for the agricultural industry.