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Bats and disease FAQs

These frequently asked questions relate to UK bats.

Is there a risk of catching Ebola from bats in the UK?

There is no risk of catching Ebola from any of the UK’s native bat species. 

Although there has been speculation and circumstantial evidence that bat species may be reservoirs for Ebola viruses in Africa, this has not been proven. The presence of antibodies to Ebola has in the past pointed to several species of bats from west and central Africa as the source of the virus. However more recent investigations have failed to reveal Ebola virus or circulating Ebola RNA, indicative of active Ebola infection, in a bat. Despite extensive efforts by researchers Ebola virus has not been isolated from bats.

The consumption of primates and other bushmeat may be a likely route of Ebola infecting humans initially, with the disease then being spread through human to human contact. 

There is a position statement on the EUROBATS websiteBat Conservation International has more details about bats and Ebola. There is information about Ebola on the Public Health England website and the Centre for Disease Control in the USA also has a lot of information about the disease. 

 

Do bats in the UK carry diseases?

The only known zoonotic disease (i.e. one that can be transmitted to humans) that has ever been found in UK bats is called European Bat Lyssavirus (EBLV) – a rabies type virus. The live virus has only been found, to date in 14 bats of one species (the Daubenton’s bat) despite having 17 breeding bat species in the UK and testing over 15,000 individual bats for the virus over the last 20 years. EBLV is transmitted through a bite or a scratch or from a bat’s saliva coming into contact with your mucous membranes (your eyes, mouth or nose). Therefore there is no risk to the public if you do not handle bats. If you need to handle a bat (i.e. if it is grounded/injured) wear gloves to protect from any potential risk.

No other zoonotic diseases have been found in UK bats.

 

Can I catch rabies or other diseases from bats that roost in my house? 

The only known disease that can be passed from bats to people, found in UK bats, is a rabies virus called European Bat Lyssavirus (EBLV) which has been found in just 14 individuals of one species of bat in the UK – the Daubenton’s bat, which does not typically roost in houses. Therefore the potential risk to the public is very small.

Bats prefer to roost far away from living areas and avoid contact with people. EBLV is transmitted through a bite or a scratch or from a bat’s saliva coming into contact with your mucous membranes (your eyes, mouth or nose). Therefore there is no risk to the public if you do not handle bats.  In the event that you may need to (for example if a bat has been found grounded or injured) wearing thick gloves can remove that risk altogether. 

 

I see bats flying in my garden/ park/ near my river – should I be worried?

Not at all, seeing bats around the area in which you live is actually a good sign as bats are indicators of a healthy environment. Bats need places to roost, clean water to drink and lots of insects to eat, therefore seeing bats around suggests that your local area has lots of good habitat that will support a whole range of wildlife.

The only disease associated with UK bats is European Bat Lyssavirus - EBLV (which has only been found in 14 individuals) and this can only be transmitted via direct contact (e.g. a bite or a scratch). There is therefore no risk if you do not handle a bat. If for any reason you do need to handle a bat, wear gloves to do so.

 

I've read lots of stories on the internet about bats flying into bedrooms at night and biting peole. Should I be worried?

A lot of the information found on the internet on this subject relates to bats in other parts of the world where things are very different either in terms of the species of bats present (e.g. vampire bats that are only found in central and south America) or the diseases that bats in very different parts of the world may carry.

In the UK all of our bats only feed on insects, they are also very shy creatures and therefore have no interest in humans, in fact where possible they will avoid contact such as roosting in parts of a building that are undisturbed and away from people. Occasionally bats do fly in through open windows but only by accident and if this happens they will try and find their way back out again. This means that they will fly around the room looking for that open window. If, after a while they cannot find their way back out they will tire themselves out and settle somewhere to rest temporarily. This will be somewhere hidden away like behind a curtain or a picture frame, so they feel secure. 

The only disease associated with UK bats is European Bat Lyssavirus - EBLV (which has only been found in 14 individuals). EBLV is only transmitted via direct contacts (e.g. a bite or a scratch). There is therefore no risk if you do not handle a bat (i.e. if the bat is seen flying around a room and back out again). More information about what to do should you find a grounded bat is available on our helpline pages.

 

If I find an injured bat will it pose a threat to my health?

There are many reasons why a bat may be found on the ground, for example it could be dehydrated or have been attacked by a cat. Bats are not normally aggressive but they are wild animals and therefore like any wild animal we would always recommend that gloves are used should you need to handle the animal to contain it.

A very small number of bats in the UK carry European Bat Lyssavirus Type 2- EBLV2 (a rabies virus), wearing thick gloves if you need to handle will remove the risk to the handler. There are no other diseases known to be carried by UK bats that can affect humans.

 

Will bats give my pets disease?

There are no known cases of a pet contracting a disease from a bat in the UK. Bats are very shy creatures, preferring to roost away from people or their pets. The only time that a pet is likely to come into contact with a bat is during dusk or dawn when bats are leaving or returning to their roosts and flying lower to the ground (and could be more easily caught). As bats are wild animals it is always advisable to minimise any contact with pets as far as possible, such as keeping cats in around dusk time

The only disease associated with UK bats is European Bat Lyssavirus - EBLV (which has only been found in 14 individuals) and this can only be transmitted via direct contact (e.g. a bite or a scratch). The 14 individuals found with EBLV were all of one species, the Daubenton's bat which does not tend to roost in domestic properties and therefore is unlikely to be a species that a cat or dog, etc would come into contact with. There are 17 species of bats that breed in the UK and the live EBLV2 virus has never been found in any other species in the UK.

 

Do bats in the UK carry coronaviruses?

There are no known zoonotic (harmful to humans) coronaviruses found in UK bats.

Coronaviruses (or Coronoviridae) are large family of viruses and although they include a small number of very serious respiratory viruses that have been much talked about in the media, they also include a huge number of other viruses which are not harmful at all. Human specific coronaviruses include one of the causes of the common cold. In fact humans like many animals such as bats are associated with a whole range of viruses that are not harmful at all.

Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (or SARS) was identified in Asia, and is thought to have originated in Chinese horseshoe bats, transmitted to humans via an intermediate host. In the cases of Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome (or MERS) the individuals affected (which included a few people from the UK) had either visited the Middle East or had contracted the disease through close contact with an infected patient or camel. 

In the UK a small number of coronaviruses have been found in a few of our bat species. However, like most of the Coronoviridae family, these are NOT harmful to humans.

 

What about bats overseas, do they carry lots of diseases?

Studies have shown that a number of bat species, especially in the tropics, are reservoirs for viruses and other pathogens that may cause emerging infectious diseases in people. This may happen where people are increasingly encroaching on bat habitat, for example through deforestation or where bats are hunted and eaten.

More information about bats and diseases in other parts of the world is available on the EcoHealth Alliance website and the the Bat Conservation International website also has information about bats and Ebola. The World Health Organisation website and the Centre for Disease Control in the United States are also good sources of factual information about a range of diseases, not just those linked to bats.  

 

Can I catch histoplasmosis from UK bats or their droppings?

No, histoplasmosis is not associated with UK bats or their droppings. All reported cases of Histoplasmosis in the UK have been associated with travel to other parts of the world where Histoplasmosis is endemic. Histoplasmosis is most common in North and Central America and in equatorial Africa and parts of Asia and Australia as well. Histoplasmosis is associated with bat droppings (or guano) in some of these areas, for example in the USA. However this is not the case in the UK, our bats are not associated with histoplasmosis. Further information about histoplasmosis.

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