Bats and Rabies: What You Need to Know
By Mylissia Smith and Dr. Susan Moore
Rabies is a serious life threatening disease that is completely preventable with the proper education and action. Bat sightings have been on the rise in areas across campus. It is important to know the facts and how best to protect yourself.
Bats can transmit rabies to humans and animals. Though rabies deaths are uncommon in the United States, it is one of the world’s most deadly diseases impacting 5 billion people annually and resulting in as many as 70,000 human deaths worldwide each year.
Transmission of rabies from animals to humans primarily occurs from a bite of an infected animal through the saliva. Although additional routes of transmission from animals to humans occur they are rare. While all mammals can contract and spread rabies, in the U. S. rabies is primarily carried by skunks, bats, raccoons, foxes and coyotes. The primary source of human deaths from rabies in the U. S. is from bats.
Bats are an important part of our ecosystem, but they are wild animals and can carry rabies, so never touch a bat! While bats most commonly roost in buildings, trees and caves they have been known to roost in less common areas such as under picnic tables and under umbrellas left in the outdoors. Bats hiss and make screeching sounds as a defense mechanism if they feel threatened. And although the majority of bats can take flight from the ground a few species of bats have difficulties and people often mistake this behavior as being ill or rabid. You cannot tell if a bat has rabies by looking at it. If you see a bat in a building, showing signs of unusual behavior, or if you wake up in the room with a bat it is imperative that you contact proper authorities for safe capture and possible testing. Proper authorities are your local police department or your county public health department. If you are renting, contact your landlord so that they are informed and can take proper action.
Bats have small teeth and bite marks may not be apparent as bite marks can disappear quickly (within 30 minutes). All bat bites, regardless of size or sensitivity must be taken seriously. If bitten (by any animal) wash the wound aggressively for several minutes with soap and water, report the incident and seek medical advice immediately. While rabies has a mortality rate of 99.9 percent it is 100 percent preventable in humans by wound care and vaccination.
Individuals who have been exposed or have possibly been exposed to the rabies virus need to get post-exposure prophylaxis. ‘Have possibly’ been exposed includes finding a bat in the same room as a person who might be unaware that a bite or direct contact had occurred. Post-exposure vaccinations are administered in the upper arm and are not particularly painful and will allow you to continue in your daily activities. Also, an injection of rabies immune globulin is given in the area around and into the wounds; any remaining volume is injected into muscles at a site distant from vaccine administration.
Rabies awareness saves lives and is a focus of World Rabies Day, celebrated yearly on September 28th. An informative brochure on rabies titled ‘Rabies Public Health Guide’ developed by the Riley County Health Department can be viewed and downloaded at http://www.rileycountyks.gov/documentcenter/view/11160.
To learn more about bats and rabies visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at www.cdc.gov/rabies, Bat Conservation International at www.batcon.org or the Global Alliance for Rabies Control at www.rabiescontrol.net.
Mylissia Smith, MPH, RBP is a Research Associate/Biosafety Officer in the Department of Diagnostic Medicine & Pathobiology at Kansas State University
Susan Moore, M.S. Ph.D, MT(ASCP)SBB is the Director of the KSVDL Rabies Laboratory