Like any mammal, bats can become infected with rabies; however, most do not have the disease. You cannot tell if a bat has rabies just by looking at it, but any bat that is active by day or has trouble flying is more likely to have rabies. If you are bitten by a bat, wash the affected area thoroughly with soap and water, then get medical attention as soon as possible. If the bat is still present, it should be captured so it may be tested for rabies.
What Is Bat Rabies?
When people think about bats, they often imagine things that are not true. Bats are not blind. They are neither rodents nor birds. They will not suck your blood, and most do not have rabies. Bats play key roles in ecosystems around the globe, from rain forests to deserts, especially by eating insects, including agricultural pests. The best protection we can offer these unique mammals is to learn more about their habits and recognize the value of living safely with them.
Bats are mammals and are susceptible to rabies, but most do not have the disease. You cannot tell if a bat has rabies just by looking at it. Rabies can be confirmed only by having the animal tested in a laboratory.
Most of the recent human rabies cases in the United States have been caused by bats. About 17 percent of rabies cases in animals occur in bats. Awareness of the facts about bats and rabies can help people protect themselves, their families, and their pets. This information may also help clear up misunderstandings about bats.
Understanding Bat Bites
If you are bitten by a bat -- or if infectious material (such as saliva) from a bat gets into your eyes, nose, mouth, or a wound -- wash the affected area thoroughly and get medical attention immediately. Whenever possible, the bat should be captured and sent to a laboratory for rabies testing.
People usually know when they have been bitten by a bat. However, because bats have small teeth which may leave marks that are not easily seen, there are situations in which you should seek medical advice, even in the absence of an obvious bite wound. Examples of such situations include the following:
- Waking up and finding a bat in your room
- Seeing a bat in the room of an unattended child
- Seeing a bat near a mentally impaired or intoxicated person.
In instances such as these, seek medical advice and have the bat tested.
People cannot get rabies just from seeing a bat in an attic, in a cave, or at a distance. In addition, people cannot get rabies from having contact with bat guano (feces), blood, or urine, or from touching a bat on its fur (even though bats should never be handled).