Bats and Rabies - How to Avoid Exposure
Many people think that all bats have rabies. That is not so. Sometimes a bat may carry rabies and not be infected with the disease. Sometimes bats do in fact have the disease. Perhaps we can attribute the myth that all bats are infected with rabies to the fact that an infected bat moves slower and is easier to come in contact with than a healthy bat. Therefore many of the bats that have human contact either have the disease or carry the disease.
When an infected animal bites a healthy animal or a human, rabies can be spread and it is critical that the newly infected animal or human get medical attention immediately.
The best defense against bat related rabies is to avoid bats! Bats are often found grouped together in caves. They gather in groups from hundreds to millions. The bats hibernate in the highest points of the caves. Avoid contact with bats, and with bat droppings. Hiking and camping and cave exploring can put you in contact with bats. Be aware of your surroundings and carry a flashlight. If you have seen bats in an area, leave the area!
Being bitten by a bat that is infected almost always leads to infection. Exposure to saliva and droppings (though it is rare) can also lead to infection if there is an opening in skin. If saliva from a bat gets into a humans eyes, nose, mouth or open wound, wash the area thoroughly and get immediate medical attention.
Bats have small teeth and sometimes people are unsure if they have been bitten. If the bat has come in to your skin, you need to insure you are not infected. Rabies is deadly. Contact your local health department for information on how to insure you are safe.
If you find a bat in a room with a small child, or a disabled person you must assume they are infected and seek help. Tiny bat teeth may not leave a mark that you are sure is a bite. This is especially true if you were bitten while asleep. After contact with bats and their fluids, monitor your health closely. If there are symptoms of chills, fever, headache, muscle pain or flu like symptoms, get medical attention.
There is a vaccine for rabies and it will keep a person from getting the disease even when exposed. However, it MUST be administered early. That is why you must seek help even if it is uncertain that you were exposed. If a patient receives the vaccine before symptoms of the disease appear, rabies can be averted.
Though deaths from rabies declines every year in the United States, the cases resulting in death almost always comes from an infected bat. With caution and knowledge, it is not usually difficult to avoid bats and the diseases they can carry.
In the United States it is rare to encounter bats in our homes, it is not unheard of. Between 1997 and 2006 in the United States, there were 17 cases of human contact with bats. Fourteen of these cases were reported after a bat was found in the home. Thirteen times, people were awoken when the bat landed on them and once when the bat actually bit the person.
There have been instances in the United States, when small children have died from rabies, and no one even knew they had been bitten because the bites are so small. In one case, a 4 year old child was sleeping and his parents went to check on him when they heard a noise. They found a bat in the child’s room. They saw no marks on the child and the child did not awaken. The child developed a rash and itch on his arm, most likely where he had been bitten. Still not alarmed, the parents did not feel he needed to see a doctor. The child died two weeks later. A similar case happened when a young child of ten years old removed a bat without the help of an adult. Not realizing he had been bitten, he only complained of an itchy rash on his arm, and the side of his head. He died 10 days after the incident. Tests revealed both children died of rabies.
In the cases where the animal cannot be tested, it is necessary to assume the animal was infected. Rabies is 99% fatal. A child found a bat at home. He took the bat to school and exposed more than 150 families. The bat got away. Eight boys actually handled the bat. All the boys had to endure rabies vaccines. Though the children were protected, it was not a comfortable procedure. But it was necessary!
Using screens on attic openings and windows will prevent a bat from assuming your house is a cave. When you come in contact with any bat, assume the worse. Wash thoroughly with soap and water and seek help. Teach children not to touch a bat, living or dead. This is a good lesson to teach children with any animal. Bats are not the only carrier of rabies. If you find a bat makes sure you contact your health department, the CDC or animal control for information about how to dispose of the animal. Most likely the bat will be picked up and tested for rabies. Clean the area you found the bat in very well. Remember, droppings and saliva is also infected.
Bats Away is your local bat removal and control expert for all your bat control and exclusion.