Reality Alert: At a summer camp in the north woods, a group of campers woke up to find a bat in their cabin. Panic ensued and camp counselors quickly tried to get campers out of the cabin. In the process, the bat also escaped. Since the bat was found with sleeping children and its rabies status was unknown, all campers had to go through rabies treatment as a precaution.
While most bats don’t carry disease, some bats can spread rabies, which is a serious and usually fatal illness. The most common way for people to get rabies in the United States is from a bat; however, if treated with vaccines right after exposure, this risk can be mitigated. It’s important to be cautious when handling bats if they get inside a house or cabin. Many people are unfamiliar with best practices when it comes to dealing with bats that come into contact with humans.
How Bats Transmit Disease
Bats can transmit rabies by biting someone. Rabies can also be transmitted through infected material, such as saliva and brain matter if the bat is dead. Just seeing a bat or being exposed to feces, blood, urine, or touching the bats’ fur is not enough to transmit disease. People often think it would be obvious to know if a bat bites someone; however, many types of bats have very small teeth and marks can disappear quickly. If a bat has been found in a room with sleeping people or small children, they may not know if they’ve been bitten.
Handling and Capturing Bats
If a bat has encountered humans, it should be captured and sent for testing whenever possible. The CDC has tips on how to safely capture a bat:
- Find a small container (a box or a large can) and a piece of cardboard that can cover the opening of the container. Make some air holes in the container.
- Put on work gloves. When the bat lands, approach it slowly and put the container over it. Slide the cardboard over the opening to trap the bat inside.
- If there’s no question of contact with humans, the bat can be released outside. If there is any question of human contact, tape the container closed and contact the local health department to test the bat for rabies.
Anyone who comes in contact with a bat should seek medical advice from their doctors right away to see if they should start a precautionary round of rabies vaccines. Any bites should be washed with soap and water. Children should be taught not handle any bats they may encounter. Bats that cannot fly or that allow humans to approach them may be infected with rabies. With vaccine treatment, rabies does not have to be fatal to humans. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.