Bats And Rabies

There are lots of fears surrounding bats and rabies. You might have heard that many are carriers of this virus. Or that you can get it just by being close to them.

But despite some of the stories that sometimes surface in the media, bats and rabies don't go hand in hand

The truth is that while some bats do carry the virus, the percentage that do is very small. For example, in North America, only 0.5% of bats are carriers, so the risk of coming into contact with one is very low if you live in the States.

And in the UK, only 9 out of the 9,000 bats that have been tested since 1986 have been found to have the rabies-like virus, EBLV (European Bat Lyssavirus).

In most places around the world, people are more likely to get rabies from dogs than from wildlife (including bats).

This disease is passed on to humans by infected saliva entering a person's body through a scratch, bite or open wound. Or by it coming into contact with the mucous membranes of the nose, mouth and eyes.

This is why it's really important to wear thick leather gloves when handling bats (and to only pick them up if you have to).

They're gentle creatures but as with all of us, fear can make them act defensively and so they might bite when in a stressful situation.

Some signs that show that all might not be well with a bat are that it's:

  • disorientated
  • bumping into nearby objects
  • sitting still on the ground

The last indicator might be surprising if you've ever seen a dog with rabies. But the type of virus some bats carry causes paralysis and passive rather than aggressive behaviour.

If you suspect that a bat has rabies, call your local veterinary service or public health department. They'll send someone to come and collect it so that it can be tested (or you might need to take it in).

You can also call the Bat Helpline if you live in the UK on 0845 1300 228.

In the meantime, isolate the bat by placing a box over it. (But don't forget to make some small holes in the box so that the bat can breath).

Post exposure treatment is very effective (and relatively pain free) but it needs to be given as soon as possible after being bitten. So if you do get bitten by a bat or any other animal, wash and disinfect the site of the wound and seek medical help straight away.

It's very easy for a bat bite to go unnoticed. If you find one in your room when you wake up or in the room of a child or someone with a mental disability, submit the bat for testing and get medical advice.

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