Bats Beware: Avoiding Rabies From Bats

Aug 13, 2021

In 2020, a colony of bats made an unscheduled appearance at an NBA basketball game.  Bats descended from the rafters of Dallas Mavericks stadium and flittered above and among an unsuspecting crowd and players. Officials suspended game and tried to net and remove the animals. 

One mis-informed NBA basketball player snatched a bat that was flittering around him with his bare hand. For his actions, he was rewarded with a rabies vaccination. 

The take home from this story, is that bats can carry the rabies. You cannot tell if a bat has rabies just by looking at it. Rabies can only be confirmed in a laboratory.

Any bat that is active by day or is found in a place where bats are not usually seen like in your home or on your lawn or your favorite sports venue just might be rabid. Any bat that is unable to fly and is easily approached could very well be sick. 

In reality, most bats do not have rabies.  Even among bats submitted for rabies testing because they could be captured, were obviously weak or sick, or had been captured by a cat, dog, or human, only about 6% had rabies.

Make no mistake about it - rabies is a fatal disease!  However, there are very few cases of rabies in humans reported each year in the United States.  The most common way for people to get rabies in the United States is through contact with a bat or other wild animals.

In the cases where humans developed rabies, they did not recognize the risk of rabies from the bite or contact with the saliva of a wild animal. In addition, they did not seek medical advice. Each year, thousands of people are successfully protected from developing rabies through vaccination after being bitten by an animal like a bat that may have rabies.

Here are some simple tips to remember about bats, wildlife, and rabies that you can follow to protect yourself and your family.

  1. Never touch or handle unfamiliar animals, wild or domestic, even if they appear friendly. “Love your own, leave wildlife alone” is a good principle for all to learn.
  2.  If bitten by a wild animal, wash any wound from an animal thoroughly with soap and water and seek medical attention immediately.
  3.  If you encounter a dead, sick, or easily captured bat, contact your local county health officials to have it tested for rabies. This is not a maybe; it is an absolute, particularly if you, your family and your pets been exposed to the animal. 
  4. Prevent bats from entering living quarters or occupied spaces in homes, churches, schools, and other similar areas where they might contact people and pets.

For more information about how to keep your and your family’s interactions with wildlife positive, see WildAwareUtah.org