All mammals can get rabies. Any animal bite (wild or pet) should be reported immediately to a doctor for evaluation as a possible rabies exposure.
Bats are less likely to get rabies than many other animals. People used to think that 10 percent of bats have rabies but new research says the number is closer to one per cent. (Fewer bats carry rabies than thought Science News, March 22, 2011 Press Release from University of Calgary)
Very few people get rabies. They usually get it from a dog. Make sure your pets get their rabies shots! The CDC website says that the majority of total rabies cases reported each year in the United States occur in wild animals like raccoons, skunks, bats, and foxes.
Bats have been implicated in most human United States rabies cases acquired in the during the last 25 years. But that was not just from going into a cave.
Don’t touch a bat. Don’t try to catch a bat (or any other wild animal).
You can catch rabies from a bat’s saliva or from a wound. You don’t have to be bitten by the bat. And bats have very small teeth. You may not notice the bite.
You can’t get rabies from bat guano, but you can catch histoplasmosis. It is caused by breathing in spores from the fungus Histoplasma Capsulatum that are found in the droppings of many animals, including bats. Symptoms are fever, muscle aches and respiratory problems. This is only dangerous to babies, the elderly and immune compromised persons. It is rare. And who wants to play with bat poop, anyway?
A normal bat will not let you get near. It will fly away. If a bat does not fly away, it is likely sick. Do not pick up a bat.
Rabies is Fatal
Rabies infection is almost always fatal without the treatment. Transmission to humans is rare, affecting just a handful of people every year. But, you HAVE to get treatment if you are exposed or you will die.
If you are exposed to a bat, any bat, treatment should be started as soon as possible after the exposure, ideally within 24 hours.
If you wake up with a bat in your room, find a bat in the room of a sleeping person, a child, a person with mental disabilities or someone impaired by alcohol or drugs or anyone unable to give an accurate report about contact, you need to seek medical advice and start treatment.
Rabies shots are not as bad as you may have heard. My friend got a stray dog bite. She had to have immune globulin and 4 doses of rabies vaccine, one dose right away, then additional doses on the 3rd, 7th, and 14th days. She said it was no worse than a flu shot. Or, five flu shots.
Rabid: A Cultural History of the World’s Most Diabolical Virus
This was a great book about Rabies. They talked about it on NPR, so I ordered it on Amazon. – Wow! Rabies is like a horror movie. This book is full of stories throughout history and around the world.
People in rural India believe they are pregnant with puppies if they are bitten by a dog, so they don’t get rabies treatment.
I had no idea what a hero Louis Pasteur was.
I could not put this book down and I loaned it to everyone I know. You will really love this book. And it has an index. I love a book with an index!
More about Bats and other animals that live in caves >