Bitten by a rabid bat, a carpenter made all the right moves

This rabid bat bit Anthony Gantt, who killed it with a hammer.
This rabid bat bit Anthony Gantt, who killed it with a hammer. Heather Gantt

In the daylight of a Sunday afternoon, working on a deck railing, Anthony Gantt was doing his carpenter thing on South Hill when he noticed what felt like a bee sting on his wrist.

One hammer swing later, he was headed for Good Samaritan Hospital with a dead bat in a cardboard box.

The bat, testing at a state lab would conclude, had rabies, which meant Gantt got batches of vaccine shots for two weeks after the June 4 attack.

Now recovered, he and his wife, Heather, can bat around jokes, but she recalled the panic of the instant in an interview Tuesday.

“We’d never had this happen before,” she said, “so we weren’t sure what to do.”

Experts said they did all the right things, partly by luck, which set in motion proper treatment for Anthony’s bite and thorough testing of the bat.

Their experience can be an example for what others should do during the July-to-September peak bat season in Washington.

The first reaction was the luckiest: Anthony flicked the bat off his wrist and used the hammer to exterminate it — with a body blow. Rabies testing requires keeping the bat’s brainstem intact.

People frequently swing whatever is handy, such as a tennis racket, wildly at the bat and often ruin the testable organs with a head shot, said Nigel Turner, disease and preparedness division director of the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department.

Anthony’s bat had shown up without warning. Heather Gantt said no other bats had been seen that afternoon. She was leaving for a birthday party when her husband yelped.

Google said to wash the wound, so they did. The 24-hour nurse hot line of their Aetna insurance said to get to a hospital within an hour and bring the bat.

Anthony shuffled it into a box, using a stick, Heather reported.

State lab experts later classified the animal as a big brown bat — eptesicus fuscus, common through much of North America — but she found it tinier than she visualized.

“I was expecting a bat to be really big,” she said, “but when I opened up the box, it was only maybe 3 inches long. The fangs on it were small, like needles.”

They scooped up their children, got to the hospital and got treated. Anthony, an Army veteran, didn’t flinch at the battery of shots, his wife said.

Then the hospital staff put the bat in a bag and handed it back to the couple. The Health Department was closed for the weekend, so there was no place to get it tested.

“The worst part was the hospital was like, ‘You gotta take it home and put it into your refrigerator until the Department of Health opens up tomorrow morning,” Heather said. “Good thing we’ve got a fridge out in our garage.”

The next day, the Health Department FedExed the chilled bat carcass to the state Department of Health lab in Shoreline, which tests upwards of a dozen bats each year, on average. About 7 percent are rabid.

The Gantt bat was the first rabid one from Pierce County in five years, a Health Department spokeswoman said. This meant three more rounds of shots, at three, seven and 14 days after the bite.

Health officials warn anyone who comes in close contact with a bat to seek similar medical attention.

As for Anthony, now fully recovered, he’s on the receiving end of Batman jibes around the house.

Derrick Nunnally: 253-597-8693, @dcnunnally

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