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Bats & Human Contact
Bats & Human Contact
Simply left alone, bats are harmless and highly beneficial. They are fascinating creatures, vital to the balance of nature around the world. Like most wild animals, bats prefer to avoid contact with humans. But in situations where bats and humans come into close proximity, it is important to understand how to prevent negative outcomes for humans AND bats.
Several scenarios might bring bats and humans together: bats sometimes accidentally fly into a home or business through open doors or windows; they might take advantage of existing small openings into attics, wall spaces, or chimneys and roost in structures where humans live or work; and sick, injured, or dead bats sometimes fall to the ground. In each of these situations, BCI discourages the general public from handling bats. If touching or contact does occur, we hope the following information will inform you about possible health risks that may apply.
Bats, Ebola, and Infectious Disease
Bat Conservation International fully embraces the “One Health” movement which recognizes that conservation biologists and public health officials confront the same ecological problems. As stated in the executive summary of the “One Health” Initiative, “the convergence of people, animals, and our environment has created a new dynamic in which the health of each group is inextricably interconnected.
Research has revealed that more than 60 percent of emerging infectious diseases are zoonotic, and that bats are not exceptional among wildlife as potential sources of human disease. Over the last decade, increased surveillance and improved techniques for disease detection have implicated bats as likely reservoirs and vectors for a lengthening list of pathogens that can affect humans and domestic animals.
These include Marburg, Nipah, Hendra, SARS-like coronaviruses, flu virus, a panoply of lyssaviruses including rabies, and most notably, Ebola.
The causes for the emergence of these diseases from wildlife into human populations are fundamentally ecological, resulting from the disruption of our natural habitats, and are inevitably exacerbated by social disorder and political instability. Read more…
Rabies is a preventable viral infection of the central nervous system in mammals. Bats, like most mammals, can contract the rabies virus, but the vast majority never do. When bats do get rabies, they eventually die from the disease and do not “carry” the virus indefinitely without themselves getting sick.
The virus is typically transmitted by the bite of an infected animal – so anyone bitten by a bat (or any other wild or unknown domestic animal) should seek immediate medical attention. People can, in rare instances, contract rabies if infectious material, such as saliva from a rabid animal, gets into their eyes, nose, mouth, or a wound.
No subject has generated more misinformation and fear about bats than rabies. So let's look at the facts. Worldwide, more than 55,000 people are estimated to die of rabies each year (World Health Organization), primarily from contacts with rabid dogs. In industrialized countries, most dogs and cats are now vaccinated against rabies, and the disease is rare in humans and usually results from contact with rabid wildlife, particularly bats. In the United States from 1995 through 2009, an average of two people per year have died of rabies associated with bats.
With proper education, the presence of bats does not pose public health conflicts. For example, approximately 1½ million Mexican free-tailed bats live under the Congress Avenue Bridge in downtown Austin, Texas. A well-publicized tourist attraction, the bridge bats attract tens of thousands of people each summer to watch the bats emerge in the evenings on their nightly insect hunts. No human case of bat-transmitted rabies has ever been recorded in Austin or surrounding communities.
Rabies is readily prevented by post-contact vaccination, but is almost always fatal after symptoms appear. Prompt medical advice is essential following a bite by a bat or other animal. If the bat can be safely captured (as in a box or can), it should be sent to a laboratory for testing. People usually know when they've been bitten, but bats have small teeth and bite marks may not be apparent. If you find a bat in the room of an unattended child or near a mentally impaired or intoxicated person, seek medical advice.
The modern rabies vaccine is safe and effective. Anyone who handles wild animals should obtain pre-exposure immunization, and anyone bitten or exposed to the saliva or nerve tissue of a rabies-suspect animal should immediately obtain post-exposure vaccination. This vaccination has been simplified and no longer requires a lengthy series of shots as it did in the past; four shots are administered over a period of two weeks and are usually given in the upper arm.
A bat that can be easily approached by humans is much more likely than other bats to be sick, and it may bite if handled. Do not touch or handle a bat or any other wild animal and there is little chance of being bitten. Teach children to never handle any wild animal.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides instructions on what to do if you think you may have been exposed to rabies. State-by-state contacts are listed under "Resources."
When should I seek medical attention?
What care will I receive?
What is the risk for my pet?
What are the signs and symptoms of rabies?
How is rabies transmitted?
How is rabies diagnosed?
Rabies in the U.S. and around the World
Rabies Information for Specific Groups
Bats and Histoplasmosis
Histoplasmosis is a respiratory disease caused by a fungus that grows in soil enriched by animal droppings, including those from bats. Ninety percent of all reported cases in humans come from the Ohio and Mississippi River valleys and adjacent areas where warm, humid conditions favor fungal growth.
The disease is rare or nonexistent in most of Canada and in the far northern and western United States. The majority of cases are asymptomatic or involve flu-like symptoms, though some individuals become seriously ill, especially if exposed to large quantities of spore-laden dust.
To be safe, avoid breathing dust in areas where there are animal droppings; if you must clean an area of bat or bird droppings, wear a respirator that can guard against particles as small as two microns.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides information about Histoplasmosis here
Study by University of Calgary researchers has confirmed that bats are not as disease-ridden as the stigma suggests: The notion that bats have high rates of rabies is not true.
Further Reading From BATS Magazine
Volume 35, Issue 3, 2016: The Season of the Bat
Volume 35, Issue 3, 2016: Fighting fungus
Volume 35, Issue 3, 2016: Ghost-faced bat
Volume 35, Issue 3, 2016: Turning Vampire Myths Upside Down (Or Right Side Up)
Volume 35, Issue 3, 2016: Career Advice
Volume 35, Issue 3, 2016: 5 Weird Facts About Bats
Volume 35, Issue 2, 2016: Beyond the Menagerie
Volume 35, Issue 2, 2016: White-nose Syndrome - Memoirs from the Front Line
Volume 35, Issue 2, 2016: Bat Fight
Volume 35, Issue 2, 2016: A Safe Space for Flying Foxes
Volume 35, Issue 1, 2016: Encouraging Corporate Conservation
Volume 35, Issue 1, 2016: Northern long-eared Bat
Volume 35, Issue 1, 2016: Changing Negative Views