Bats and Rabies
Know what to do if you’re bit by a bat with rabies…
Rabies is a fatal disease that affects mammals, and is spread from one animal to another by biting. Worldwide, rabies kills about 30,000 people each year, with 90% of human exposures to rabies originating from rabid dogs. Additionally, 99% of human deaths due to Rabies is also due to rabid dogs.
Bats were the most frequently reported rabid wildlife species (30.9 percent of all animal cases during 2015), followed by raccoons (29.4 percent), skunks (24.8 percent), and foxes (5.9 percent). It’s important to remember though, that most bats don’t have rabies. Of the bats submitted to state laboratories for rabies testing because they were either inside a home, were obviously weak or sick, or were caught by a pet, about 5% test positive. This does not mean that 5% of all bats are rabid. Scientific surveys of wild bats typically report a positive rate of less than 0.5% for most North American bat species. Even when a rabid bat had been found, examinations of the entire colony show no other rabid individuals. In addition, bats are not “carriers” of rabies; when a bat gets the disease it will die. Typically, bats tend to become paralyzed with the disease, often avoiding the aggressive form of rabies.
In all, rabies is a fatal disease. You can be exposed to rabies if you are bitten by an infected animal, or if the saliva of an infected animal comes in contact with fresh scratches, cuts, or the membranes of the eyes, nose, or mouth.
It is important to know that picking up a bat with bare hands is the most common way in which people are bitten. Animals will bite in self-defense, and bats are not an exception. Avoid contact with all wild animals by keeping a safe distance. If bitten by any wild mammal, contact a local public safety, animal control office, or county health department to have the animal collected for testing. For more information on rabies and wildlife and when to consider post-exposure treatment, you can visit the Centers for Disease Control website for more information.
Over the last 50 years, only about 40 people in the United States have died from rabies contracted from a wild bat, even though hundreds of millions of bats live in this country and millions of these animals roost in buildings frequented by humans. It is estimated that each year, 45,000 people in the U.S. receive treatment to prevent rabies after exposure to rabid or potentially rabid animals, including bats. There are several ways to reduce the chance of coming in contact with an infected wild bat. It is recommended that all dogs and cats (indoor and outdoor) be vaccinated against rabies, wild bats be humanely evicted from living quarters, and alternative housing be provided.
As the human population continues to grow, human-wildlife altercations will also increase. Bats prefer to live in dead trees during the summer. Without natural habitat, bats will take up residence in human-made buildings.