How do bats spread rabies? I was bitten by a bat what should I do? What to do if you are bitten by a bat? How hard do bats bite? How does rabies spread? What are symptoms of rabies? How dangerous are bats? Can I get rabies from a bat? How many mosquitoes does a bat eat in a night?
Bats are flying mammals, there are many kinds of bats, including those that eat nectar, and those that drink blood. For most people, living in North America, the bats they are most likely to encounter are the bats that fly around at night eating insects. Generally most of these bats are not a concern, their echo-location prevents them from flying into people as this is not their goal.
Chances of a human becoming infected with rabies though a bat bite are greatest when humans handle bats that appear sick, and are in fact infected with rabies. Not all bats carry rabies; which is a virus.
Most bats infected with rabies cannot fly, or cannot fly well. At this point if a person were to handle them roughly, resulting in a bite, rabies could be a concern. If possible the bat should be contained (perhaps in a shoe box, or even an empty cereal box), and not killed. It should be submitted for testing – your hospital will do this, or a veterinarian can be contacted.
Bites from bats are hard to detect, their teeth are small and needle-like. If you suspect you were bitten, you need to go to the hospital, ideally with the bat that bit you. The rabies virus is very slow moving, it takes a lot time to reach the brain, however the hospital can examine your skin to see if you were bitten, and will want to submit the bat for testing.
Testing in Canada has shown that only about 2% of the bats who were acting strangely, or bit somebody, and were tested for rabies, actually tested positive for the disease. In some cases they may have been attacked by a cat, and injured, earlier, resulting in their behavior problems.
Facts and Information on Rabies
Rabies has been known since 2300 BC. It is a virus that infects mammals and is spread through saliva and travels to the brain where it attacks the central nervous system. The results are usually always fatal. Rabies is usually transmitted by bites, however it can also be transmitted by the virus (which is also found in mucous) coming into contact with the moist areas of the mouth, eyes, or nose. Eating an animal infected with rabies can also cause rabies, and cases of this have been noted in China.
Once rabies reaches the brain the affected animal (or human) death is usually within 10 days. Rabies presents in two different ways; dumb, and vicious.
In dumb rabies the animal does not become aggressive, its mouth often becomes weak and paralyzed, drooling is common, its head may droop. A wild animal may appear unafraid of humans, and other paralysis occurs.
In vicious rabies the animal becomes aggressive, may start frothing at the mouth, and may even show a fear of water. They may attack anything near them, even furniture. This behavior may not be constant, and can have intermittent spells of depression.
©photo of bats by author. These bats fell out from behind my barn door when I opened it, they are healthy and climbed back up the wall of the barn. It was a cold morning, and bats are not as active in cold weather.
Other animals that can carry rabies include foxes, raccoons, dogs, and cats.
Bats are beneficial to the environment. An average small brown bat may eat as many as 500 mosquitoes in one night; certain species of mosquitoes are know to spread many diseases. There is no reason to fear them in general, although we should try to prevent them from coming into our homes and should be extra careful about handling one that appears unable to fly. If you find such a bat you should contact your local health authorities in regards with what to do with it, as every area will have its own laws. Use leather gloves when trying to catch the animal.