“I live in an area where there are lots of bats. Sometimes I find one injured and want to help. But I am afraid of contracting rabies, because I heard it’s common in bats. Is it safe to touch or hold a bat? How easy is it to contract rabies?”
*For some cool/general bat facts, click here
Bats: Reality vs. Myth
Myth: Most bats are carriers of rabies.
Reality: Most bats do not carry rabies. According to the New York Health Department, the official percentage of infected bats is 3% but (because this number was based on a study that only examined bats that had already been exposed or exhibited symptoms) the general scientific consensus is that the number of is closer to 1%.
Myth: Bats contract and transmit rabies at a higher rate than other animals.
Reality: In more than 99% of human cases, the rabies virus is transmitted by domestic dogs!
However, according to the CDC, bats rank second among the four most commonly reported cases of rabies in wild animals: Raccoons rank first, followed by bats, skunks, and foxes.
“Since the background rabies rate in bats is low, less than one percent, people should focus more on the ecosystem services they provide without worrying that every other bat has rabies. This is especially important right now because bats are facing some heavy threats, like wind turbines and white nose syndrome”
Myth: Bats attack. Especially rabid bats.
Reality: Bats are a naturally insular, shy, and communal species. Fortunately, rabid bats tend to be equally as antisocial.
However, nearly all cases in which a human contracts rabies from a bat occurs when a human intentionally touches or handles a bat (usually by trying to help them picking them up from their yard, or trying to remove them from their home). An exposure to rabies most commonly occurs when a person is bitten…but it can also be transmitted when the saliva from a rabid animal comes in contact with a person’s mouth, eyes, nose, or a fresh wound.
(Rabid) Bat Facts:
One of the main reasons people become exposed to rabies from bats is because they unaware that there are actually two forms of behavior in rabid animals:
- “Furious rabies” in which which the infected animal exhibits stereotypical, noticeably marked symptoms: it is easily excited or angered, behaves bizarrely, loses all inhibition, becomes both intensely strong, and viciously attacks without cause.
- “Paralytic” or “dumb” rabies, in which the animal becomes despondent, physically impaired, or unable to move. Bats are almost always “paralytic,” which is why people tend mistake them for ill/injured, becoming exposed as they try to help.
(Good vs. Bad) Bat Behavior:
One way to avoid being infected is better understanding healthy vs. atypical bat behavior:
- A healthy bat lives in large groups, typically in cooler, darker, secluded areas (like caves), and avoids any contact with humans/animals. They are generally airborn, moving rapidly, hunt in flight, and resting on ceilings or high surfaces and rarely remaining on the ground for any prolonged period of time.
- Rabid bats, on the other hand, withdraw from the company of other bats, and tend be alone, They do not fly well, or at all. They may be uncoordinated or despondent. Like other wild animals, bats normally avoid human contact. They are not affectionate, but they may not flee from humans. They tend not to approach humans when infected, but if a bat is not cautious/resistant when approached, it may be rabid.
“If a bat is found inside or outside the home or buildings, do not attempt to touch the bat with bare hands. Bats can carry the rabies virus in their saliva, which coats their body during grooming. If you touch the bat with your bare hands, even if you did not get bitten, notify the Public Health Department immediately. Use very thick gloves or welding gloves to protect yourself. If found inside, pin them against the wall with a box or can with a lid. Take it outside and release it, and again, do not touch it with bare hands. Nursing baby bats may be clinging to their mothers. Don’t release a bat if it is sick, injured or too young to live on its own.”
-The Wildlife Clinic (Illinois)
Advise, Links, Etc…
When it comes to your question about whether or not to help injured bats: my official advice is to to keep your distance! (Or go get a rabies vaccine, first!)
If, however, you decide to go against my advice, and plan to pick up/handle a bat, Please review the following websites for advice on how to safely do so:
- Previous studies have suggested that typically about 10 percent of bats taken by the public to be tested have rabies but new research says the number is closer to one per cent regardless of species or where the bats roost.
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