Bats & Human Health

Bat Conservation International Bats and Disease Position Statement

Bat one health movement

Bat Conservation International (BCI) recognizes that human health, animal health, and ecosystem health are inextricably linked.

Experts now estimate that 75% of all emerging human infectious diseases originate in animal populations, among them bats and other mammals. Contact between people, livestock and wildlife increases as the growing human population encroaches into natural areas and as some species adapt to co-exist in close proximity to humans. This increased contact poses a challenge for both health practitioners and conservationists in the task of preventing spillover of pathogens from wild animals to humans and livestock and protecting wildlife and their habitats. Conservation of habitats and limitation of human-wildlife contact are only two of the elements considered to mitigate this issue.

Bat Conservation International is committed to an integrated One Health approach to work with communities to protect human health and conserve the world’s bats. The One Health Initiative seeks to promote, improve, and defend the health and well-being of all species by enhancing cooperation and collaboration between physicians, veterinarians, other scientific health and environmental professionals.

With more than 1330 species, bats are the second largest group of mammals on Earth. Bat Conservation International recognizes the serious challenge of effectively preventing, responding and managing zoonotic spillover events that may be linked to bats.

Bat Conservation International is dedicated to the enduring protection of the world’s bats and their habitats, and creating a world in which bats and humans successfully coexist. BCI believes that effective bat conservation can help reduce the risk of zoonotic disease through better understanding and effective management of human-bat interactions. In particular, BCI supports interdisciplinary conservation action and ethical, well-designed research to better understand the relationships between bat ecology and the risk of zoonotic disease.

Bat Conservation International encourages interaction and collaboration among different health and conservation professions in collaborative prevention, surveillance and management of zoonotic diseases. BCI is dedicated to furthering this collaboration by sharing knowledge to help educate managers, researchers, policymakers, students, conservation organizations and the public about the management of zoonotic diseases and bat conservation issues through professional networks, scientific journals, lay articles, and the media.

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, Coronaviruses, and Zoonotic 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.”

The One Health approach recognizes that public health is inextricably linked to healthy environments. “One Health is defined as a collaborative, multisectoral, and transdisciplinary approach — working at the local, regional, national, and global levels — with the goal of achieving optimal health outcomes recognizing the interconnection between people, animals, plants, and their shared environment.” – CDC website

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.

Studying zoonotic disease, including identifying wildlife reservoirs for pathogens, increases our understanding and ability to predict and prevent zoonotic spillover events. The virology, immunology, and ecology of bats is of crucial importance to developing strategies to inform conservation and global human health outcomes. Furthermore, studying bat immunology can help us understand our own immune systems and ways to fight diseases.

For more information on Bats, Coronaviruses, and Zoonotic Disease, CLICK HERE.

Bats and Rabies

Bats and rabies brochure


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.

Learn more about Bats & Rabies

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."


Helpful Contact Information for People in Central Texas:

Travis County—Call the local city health department at 512.972.5555 for questions about rabies exposure risks from bats. This number leads to a nurse in the Austin Travis County Health and Human Services Department’s Disease Surveillance unit. The nurse WILL return the call as quickly as possible.

Williamson County—For a rabies risk consultation, please contact Williamson County and Cities Health District, Communicable Disease Management Team at 512.943.3660 OR Department of State Health Services, Region 7, in Temple, TX at 254.778.6744.

Department of State Health Services Rabies Laboratory in Austin, TX.
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 prevention

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


Other Resources


Further Reading