Bats and Rabies


Rabies is a fatal disease transmitted from one animal to another by biting. World wide, rabies kills about 30,000 people each year, 99% of the cases transmitted by dogs.  Rabies in bats is not common.  About 5% of bats submitted to state laboratories test positive.  This does not mean that 5% of all bats are rabid, because sick individuals are more likely to be caught and turned in than are healthy bats.  Scientific surveys of wild bats typically report a positive rate of less than 0.5% for most North American bat species. Even where a rabid bat had been found, examinations of the entire colony show no other rabid individuals.  In addition, bats are not “carriers” of rabies; when a bat gets the disease it will die.  Bats also tend to become paralyzed with the disease, often avoiding the aggressive form of rabies.

It is important to know that picking up a bat with bare hands is the most common way in which people are bitten.  Animals will bite in self-defense, and bats are not an exception.  Avoid contact with all wild animals by keeping a safe distance.  If bitten by any wild mammal or stray dog or cat, contact a local public safety, animal control office, or county health department to have the animal sent for testing.  If unsure whether a bite occurred, have the bat tested anyway to be sure. For more information on rabies and wildlife and when to consider post-exposure treatment, visit the Centers for Disease Control website.

Over the last 50 years, only about 40 people in the United States have died from rabies contracted from a wild bat, even though hundreds of millions of bats live in this country and millions of these animals roost in buildings frequented by humans.  Although it is rare, there are several ways to reduce the chance of coming in contact with an infected wild bat.  It is recommended that all dogs and cats (indoor and outdoor) be vaccinated against rabies, wild bats be humanely evicted from living quarters, and alternative housing be provided. 

As the human population continues to grow, human-wildlife altercations will also increase.  Bats prefer to live in dead trees during the summer.  Without natural habitat, bats will take up residence in human-made buildings.  Evicting bats from unwanted living areas can be done humanely by providing a one-way door that allows bats to exit but not return. Mounting a bat house on a pole is recommended to provide a suitable alternative to our homes. Unless alternative housing is available, bats will continue to adapt to living in our homes.  This greatly increases the chance of human-bat contact. It is to the benefit of the health of the community to place up bat houses to provide alternatives.  

In addition, bats are the primary predators of night-flying insects. One bat can consume several thousand insects each night, including moths, beetles, gnats, mosquitoes, and flies. Insect-eating bats reduce pests and thus our use of pesticides. That means our air and water stays cleaner, thereby protecting all wildlife. Pesticides make our food cost more and are unhealthy for humans.  With fewer bats, insect populations will continue to grow, increasing our dependence on pesticides, in turn driving up the cost of food production.  For more information about humanely evicting bats and providing bat houses as alternatives, check out the Bat Problems section. 

© 2012 Organization for Bat Conservation