Be bat aware during warm weather
This post first appeared in July of 2018.
Now that summer is here, you may hear more news stories about bats. The warm weather means encounters between people and bats are more common. Despite misconceptions, bats are very beneficial animals for pollination and insect control for bugs like mosquitoes. A small percentage of them also carry dangerous diseases like rabies. For that reason, you should keep your distance.
Not all bats carry rabies. In fact, only very few do. Roughly 3-10% of bats the State Department of Health tests every year for rabies actually have the virus. Then why should you worry about rabies if so few bats appear to carry it?
Why is rabies dangerous?
Rabies is a viral disease infected animals spread. The infection rapidly destroys the brain and nervous system and is almost always fatal. In Washington, bats are the most common mammal to carry rabies. The virus is extremely rare in other animals in our state.
A good rule of thumb is to avoid contact with bats and other wild animals. Just by looking at them, it’s hard to know which ones have rabies. A rabid bat may show unusual behavior like being out during the day—bats are nocturnal—or flying low to the ground.
What do I do if I find a bat in my home?
Bats can spread rabies to people when an infected bat bites or scratches you. They have very tiny teeth, which makes it difficult to know if you have a bat bite. A bat exposure may have happened if you find one:
- In your room after you wake up.
- In a room where a small child or adult with cognitive impairment sleeps.
If you think you or someone in your family may have been exposed, contact us at (253) 798-6410. We can help you determine if you need to capture the bat for testing. Follow these four steps to catch a bat:
- Wear heavy leather or thick rubber gloves. Never handle a bat with bare hands.
- Place a container like a food storage dish over the bat, then slide the lid under the container and tape the top.
- Punch small air holes in the lid of the container using a nail or small screwdriver.
- Place the bat in a cool area away from children. Don’t put it in the freezer.
Bats go to the State Public Health Laboratory for testing. Make sure to humanely euthanize the bat without damaging the head, which must be intact for testing.
Make your home bat proof.
In warmer weather, bats are very active. They can find their way into your home, garage, or barn through open doors or windows. To make sure they don’t put down roots on your property:
- Secure window screens and keep doors without screens closed.
- Use chimney caps and draft-guards beneath doors to attics.
- Fill electrical and plumbing holes with stainless steel wool or caulking.
- Caulk openings larger than a quarter-inch by half an inch.
If you suspect bats are living in your house or on your property, contact a wildlife removal professional.
How vaccinating your pets protects you from rabies.
The good news is the United States has very few human rabies cases because of widespread vaccination of pets and domestic animals. If you come in contact with a rabid bat, you can get treatment that prevents rabies nearly 100% of the time. The important thing is to seek treatment as soon as possible after exposure.
Veterinarians, wildlife workers, and people who will live or travel long-term in countries where rabies is more common should get the rabies vaccine. It’s also important to make sure your pets are current on their rabies vaccinations so they’re protected.
Bats are beneficial to the environment, but a small number may pose a health risk. Be bat aware during the warmer weather months to protect your family and your home. Be sure to contact us at (253) 798-6410 if you or someone in your home may have had a bat exposure. Go to our Prevent Injuries in the Great Outdoors page and look in the prevent injury from wildlife section for more about rabies.
We invite your comments but will delete those with profanity, personal attacks, derogatory statements, ads or promotional material. Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department does not provide personal medical advice; please contact your health care provider.