By Emily Forbes-Mobus, MD
Milton Family Practice
Bats are linked to human rabies cases. In fact, 48 of the 52 human cases of rabies in the US between 1990 and 2016 were due to rabies from bats. While rabies has been found in bats all across the US, including Vermont, most bats do not have rabies; in Vermont only about 5 percent of bats have it. The problem is that you can’t tell if a bat has rabies just by looking at it. The only way to know is by having the bat tested. A good rule of thumb is if a bat is active by day or found in a place where bats aren’t often seen, such as in your home or on your lawn, it may be rabid.
Don’t handle any bats, even if you come across a dead or sick bat. Bats that aren’t able to fly and who let you approach could be sick. Some may carry rabies, but it’s more likely that they have white nose syndrome, an illness that affects bats across the Northeast. If you find a group of dead or sick bats you should report this to the Vermont Department of Fish & Wildlife.
Rabies treatment: Each year there are only 1 or 2 cases of rabies in humans in the US, but about forty thousand people are protected by vaccines. Stopping rabies after exposure involves a group of 2, 4 or 5 shots, depending on if you’ve been treated for rabies before and if you have a healthy immune system. You can get them through your doctor’s office.
Who needs to be treated? Rabies can be spread through bites or saliva in a cut or scratch, eyes, nose, or mouth. Because of this; finding a bat in the room of a sleeping person or unattended child, or making contact with a bat, is a rabies exposure risk.
If this happens, you may send the bat in for testing. You don’t need treatment if the bat tests negative for rabies. If the bat tests positive for rabies or if it’s unable to be sent in for testing, the person will need treatment. Only try to catch a bat if you are able to catch it without being bitten.
People sometimes don’t feel bat bites, so not being able to feel or see a bite mark doesn’t mean that you weren’t bitten. You don’t need to be treated for rabies if you are sure that you had no contact with the bat while you were in the same room, and at all times you were aware of where the bat was.
Have all dead, sick, or easily captured bats tested for rabies if they were exposed to people or pets. Even pets that are up to date on their rabies shot or are overdue for a booster should be treated right away and watched for 45 days. There are no treatments for rabies in animals, so pets that have never had a rabies shot should be put in strict quarantine for 4-6 months or put down immediately by an animal health professional. Call your vet’s office with any questions.
How to capture a bat
- Only try if you can avoid being bitten.
- Wear gloves.
- After bat lands, place box or other container over it, slide cardboard under container and tape securely.
- Call rabies hotline for guidance.
- You do not have to try this on your own. Game wardens, animal control officers, nuisance trappers, town health officers, etc. can help you.
- General rabies safety reminders.
- Do not feed or touch wild animals or animals you do not know, even baby animals.
- Get rabies shots for all your pets, including cats.
- Call a doctor if bitten, get animal saliva in cut, eyes, nose or mouth.