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Bats and rabies

Some bats in Europe carry a rabies virus called European Bat Lyssavirus (EBLV). EBLV is not the classical rabies which is usually associated with dogs; classical rabies has never been recorded in a native European bat species.

A Daubenton's bats (Hugh Clark)Bats are not normally agressive and will avoid contact with humans. This means that there is no risk if you do not handle bats. The rabies virus is transmitted via a bite or scratch from an infected animal, or from its saliva coming into contact with your mucous membranes (your eyes, mouth or nose). If you do need to handle a grounded or injured bat, always wear thick gloves to avoid getting bitten. If you require further advice, you can call the Bat Helpline on 0345 1300 228.

Find out more about bats and rabies

Bats in the UK and rabies

A small number of bats in the UK have been found to carry EBLV, a rabies virus. There are two known strains: EBLV1 and EBLV2.

In the UK, 16 bats have been found with EBLV2: 13 in England, two in Scotland and one in Wales (one of these cases was confirmed through active surveillance work, the other 15 through a passive surveillance programme). All were Daubenton's bats.

Three bats have tested positive for EBLV1 antibodies: a serotine in the south of England and two Natterer's bats in Scotland. The presence of antibodies indicates past exposure to the virus but not the presence of live virus.

The Animal & Plant Health Agency has tested over 15,000 UK bats since 1986 for EBLV through its passive surveillance programme and only 15 bats have been found with EBVL2 and none with EBLV1. These bats have been sent in by members of the public and bat workers.

Further active surveillance research by the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), the Scottish Executive and Scottish Natural Heritage found just one bat, which tested positive for EBLV2, taking the total to 16 bats (all Daubenton's bats). Details can be obtained from the Bat Helpline (0345 1300 228).

The presence of EBLV in bats in the UK does not affect the UK's rabies free status.

What do I do if I find a dead bat?

If you find a dead bat please call the BCT Helpline on 0345 1300 228. We can then send you postage-paid packaging so that you can send the dead bat to the Animal & Plant Health Agency for passive surveillance testing to check for the rabies virus.

Can people catch rabies from bats?

The risk of catching the virus from a bat in the UK is extremely small, for several reasons:

  • Passive surveillance of bats for rabies in the UK since 1986 has found only 15 bats, of over 15,000 tested, with EBLV2 (the additional bat identified with the live virus was through active surveillance work, making a total of 16 bats). All have been Daubenton's bats, which tend not to roost in buildings.
  • We have 17 breeding species in the UK; EBLV2 virus has never been found in any other bat species in the UK than Daubenton's bat. 
  • Human contact with bats is very rare, even when they share the same buildings.
  • EBLV is transmitted by the bite of an infectious bat or by its saliva entering a wound or mucous membrane. There is therefore no risk to people if you do not approach or handle a bat. This means that there is no need to be concerned if you have bats roosting in your property or flying in your garden.
  • Bats are not aggressive, although like any wild animal, they may bite to defend themselves if handled. A bat that appears to be baring its teeth is actually 'scanning' you with its unique method of echolocation - building up a picture of its environment by using a type of sonar, which is mostly inaudible to humans.
  • There is an effective treatment available from your GP for those exposed to EBLV; this must be administered as soon as possible after exposure.

Sadly, in 2002 a batworker from Scotland died from EBLV, which is why BCT takes a precautionary approach and advises that anyone who is bitten by a bat obtains advice from his/her GP.

What should I do if I am bitten by a bat?

The Bat Conservation Trust believes the chances of catching rabies from any wild animal are increased if no action is taken should you be bitten or scratched. We therefore advise people to always follow this advice:

  • Wash the wound immediately with soap and water for at least five minutes. Additional cleansing of the wound site with an alcohol base or other disinfectant is also recommended.
  • Seek immediate medical advice from your GP, even if your rabies vaccinations are up to date; you can also call the NHS Direct Helpline on 111.
  • Contain the bat so that it may be collected and assessed by a bat worker. Bats can squeeze through very small spaces, so keep it in a well-sealed container with adequate ventilation holes, a piece of cloth to hide in, and a shallow container of water for the bat to drink from. Make sure you avoid getting bitten again by wearing gloves or using a cloth to handle the bat.
  • Contact the Bat Helpline on 0345 1300 228 so that we can arrange for the nearest bat worker to collect and identify the bat. If there is no bat worker in your area the bat may need to be taken to a local vet for assistance.

Bat workers and animal rescue staff trained to handle bats for conservation and welfare purposes should:

  • Ensure they have up-to-date rabies vaccination protection* (GPs can obtain more information on the vaccines from Public Health England (tel 020 8327 6204).
  • Always wear thick protective gloves when handling bats (call the Bat Helpline if you need our gloves factsheets)
  • Follow the advice above if bitten

Can I kill the bat if it bites me?

No. Bats are legally protected, and it is an offence to kill a bat.  Contain the bat if possible and contact the Bat Helpline on 0345 1300 228 for advice on what to do with it. Your bat worker or vet will need to assess the bat.

I want to be a bat handler. Do I need to be vaccinated against rabies?

Anyone who regularly handles bats (e.g. bat rehabilitators and roost visitors) should be vaccinated against rabies. Vaccinations are available free of charge to volunteers working with bats in the UK. These vaccinations are funded by the UK's public health bodies and are given by volunteers' GPs. For further information on who is entitled to free vaccinations and how to obtain them please download the documents below. Please pass a copy of the relevant document to your GP.

Please note that as of June 2018, people who work with bats as part of their paid jobs (such as ecological consultants) are no longer eligible for free rabies vaccinations. These vaccinations must be paid for by the employer. If you work with bats professionally and need advice on arranging your vaccine, please speak to your employer. The Bat Conservation Trust is unable to give advice in these situations.

If you need a vaccination because you intend to work with bats outside the UK, you will need to get this from a private travel clinic.

Documents for UK-based volunteers

Free vaccinations for volunteer bat workers advice letter for all parts of the UK. Please show this to staff at your doctor's surgery when booking your appointment.

Please take a proof of vaccination document to your appointment for staff to complete.

Proof of vaccination document (England)

Proof of vaccination document (Wales)

Proof of vaccination document (Scotland)

Proof of vaccination document (Northern Ireland)

If you are a bat carer and need further help and advice about this process please email Laura Brown, for all other vaccination enquiries please email Lisa Worledge.

Additional information can be found on the GOV.UK website

All those handling bats should also wear gloves during handling. BCT's Wearing gloves when handling bats factsheet provides further information on the reasons for this and examples of suitable types of gloves available for different species and situations. For information and advice aimed at bat workers and bat groups is available in the BCT Good Practice Guidance on Bats and Rabies document.

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Bat Helpline

0345 1300 228