Night paddling, bat exposure, and rabies shots are not painful
by Tom Prunier

On a recent full moon evening we went for a very delightful paddle on the Connecticut River from Putney landing. The moon was bright, the water smooth, there was no wind and the boats moved flawlessly through the water. We had a very nice paddle up to the bend at Putney Great Meadows. The only disconcerting thing was the bat that fluttered around our heads. And then landed on my PFD in front of my left shoulder.

My first reaction was to brush it off and did that reflexively. My bare left arm and hand came up brushing it off my PFD and inadvertently sweeping it over the bare skin of my neck. Was not happy to have skin exposure to a bat. Didn’t think I got scratched but thought it odd that the bat chose to land on me after fluttering around our heads. We got home and I washed my neck and arm with soapy water. No scratches from the bat on my neck but my left arm had two prior scratches from an active outdoor life. This bothers me but it’s 11 pm and I’m not going to the ER tonite. Exposure to bats is an urgent issue not an emergency.
The next morning I talked with my physician and proceed to the Brattleboro ER.

Seems like I’m the only one there other than the person coming in for an asthma flare up. It’s very calm. Considering that 6% of bats submitted for testing have rabies (http://www.cdc.gov/rabies/bats/education/ lot’s of good information here) and that I had scratches on my arm, they say that it would make sense to start the rabies vaccine process. I’m not arguing and it’s what I expected. Rabies shots don’t hurt. In addition to the first of four rabies vaccine shots in my shoulder I get a large dose of rabies gamma globulin in both shoulders. No pain and the nurse is an expert with the needle.

The next step is to procure the following three doses of rabies vaccine needed on days 3, 7 and 14. There is a bit of “Who’s on First” with calls to my physician, the VT Dept of Health and Brattleboro ER. We finally figure out that my physician will call in a prescription to the pharmacy. RiteAid does not carry it but Hotel Pharmacy in Brattleboro says they will order it. The next morning they have it and I pick it up. With my health plan there is no co-pay! It makes very good business sense for health plans to encourage their patients to get treated for rabies. A half hour later I have the second vaccine injected and appointments for #s 3 and 4. It’s very good to have all the logistics and uncertainties worked out.

The upshot of this is to avoid contact with bats and to get prompt medical advice and treatment if by chance you do. Despite the horror stories of the pre-1970s vaccine, the “new” human diploid cell rabies vaccines are not painful. No more painful than any other shot I’ve gotten. I’ll probably continue to paddle at night.