Rabies in Bats
Classical rabies is an acute viral encephalomyelitis caused by several members of the Rhabdoviridae family. It transmits through infected saliva, via bites or scratches from rabid animals (in particular dogs). Because it is almost invariably fatal once symptoms develop, rabies still poses a significant public health problem in many countries in Asia and Africa where 95% of human rabies deaths occur. Post-exposure treatment using rabies vaccine is highly effective in preventing disease if given correctly and promptly after exposure. Approximately 2000 people each year require post-exposure treatment in England, of which 12% were potentially exposed to bats in the UK and 88% exposed to an animal overseas.
The UK has been free of rabies in terrestrial animals since 1922. However a rabies-related virus – European Bat Lyssavirus-2 (EBLV-2) – has been regularly found in Daubenton’s (Myotis daubentonii) bats across the UK in recent years. EBLV-2 is a virus related to the ‘classical’ (terrestrial) rabies virus that is prevalent in Africa and Asia and can lead to clinical rabies infection in humans.
In October 2018, the presence of a different type of bat rabies virus, European Bat Lyssavirus-1 (EBLV-1) – responsible for the majority of bat rabies cases reported in Europe – was confirmed for the first time in the UK in a serotine bat (Eptesicus serotinus).
The occurrence underlines the fact that, while the risk of catching rabies from a bat is very low, all bats (whatever species) must be considered a potential risk of rabies.
Rabies, although rarely contracted from bats, can be fatal in humans once symptoms appear. However, prompt treatment with rabies vaccine after an exposure is effective at preventing the disease.
Because infected bats may not show signs of illness – bat bites in the UK are felt rather than seen and may not bleed or leave an obvious mark on the skin – all bat bites, scratches or other exposures in the UK or abroad should be assessed promptly by a health professional so that post-exposure treatment can be arranged if needed – if you believe you have been bitten or scratched by a bat, report to your GP, local walk-in centre or A&E immediately.
Woodland Trust Bat hibernaculum’s must be entered with care and under the guidance of a suitably trained specialist – advice can be sought from the Bat Conservation Trust.
What to do if you encounter a bat
- Don’t touch a bat (alive or dead) with your bare hands
- If you have to touch a bat, always wear thick gloves
- If you need to contain a bat to move it, cover the bat with a small box, such as a plastic tub, with air holes and then slide a sheet of card under the box
- If you find a bat in your home, don’t attempt to catch it while it is flying.
- Open a window to the outside as wide as possible, dim the lights and close the door leaving the bat alone in the room. A bat will usually fly out on its own
- If your pet catches a bat, handle the bat safely as explained above and then keep your pet under observation. Contact your vet immediately if your pet falls sick or starts behaving unusually
For further information on Bats or to request support for an injured Bat contact the Bat Conservation Trust on: 0345 1300 228