Predicament: You’re crawling into your tent when your hand brushes something small and furry. You recoil–but not before a bat bites your finger. Blood seeps from the wound as you wonder, “Was it rabid?”
Lifeline: First, stop the bleeding by applying pressure with a clean cloth, then begin cleansing. Immediate, vigorous washing can prevent the transmission of the rabies virus. Irrigate the bite with a high-pressure jet of clean water from a syringe or hydration bladder, then clean it with soap and water. Also apply antiseptic wipes soaked with benzalkonium chloride, alcohol, or povidone iodine, which minimize risk of transmission. Do not close the wound; keep it loosely covered and clean it daily to prevent general infections.
If you can kill the animal, do so. Otherwise, record the species, behavior, appearance, and location. Rabies is a rare but deadly disease (three Americans died from it in 2006), so immediately hike out to seek medical treatment. Vaccinations are most effective when started within 24 to 36 hours of infection. Once symptoms appear, which takes between a week and several months depending on the proximity of the bite to the brain, it’s too late.