Bats and Rabies
Some bats in Europe carry a rabies virus called European Bat Lyssavirus (EBLV). This is very rare in the UK's bats. EBLV is not the classical rabies which is usually associated with dogs; classical rabies has never been recorded in a native European bat species.
Bats are quite docile and will avoid contact with humans. This means that as long as you don't handle bats, you do not need to worry about bats and rabies. The rabies virus is passed on 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 0845 1300 228.
Find out more about Bats and Rabies
- Do bats in the UK carry rabies?
- What do I do if I find a dead bat?
- Can people catch rabies from bats?
- What should I do if I am bitten by a bat?
- Can I kill the bat if it bites me?
- I want to be a bat handler. Do I need to be vaccinated against rabies?
A small number of bats in the UK have been found to carry EBLV, a rabies like virus. There are two known strains of EBLV: EBLV1 and EBLV2.
In the UK, ten bats have been found with the EBLV2 live virus: eight in England and two in Scotland (one of these cases was cofnirmed through active surveillance work, the other nine through a passive survillance 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 exposure to the virus.
The Animal Health Veterinary Laboratories Agency has tested over 10,000 UK bats since 1986 for EBLV through its passive surveillance programme and only nine bats (as described above) have been found with the live virus. (These bats have been sent in by members of the public and bat workers after the bats have died from natural causes.)
Further active surveillance research by the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), the Scottish Executive and Scottish Natural Heritage has taken place and found just one bat that tested positive for the live virus. Details can be obtained from the Bat Helpline (0845 1300 228).
The discovery of EBLV in bats in the UK does not affect the UK's rabies free status.
If you find a dead bat please call the BCT Helpline on 0845 1300 228. We can then send you postage-paid packaging so that you can send the dead bat to the Animal Health Veterinary Laboratories Agency for passive surveillance testing to check for the rabies virus.
The risk of catching the virus from a bat in the UK is extremely low, for several reasons:
- Passive surveillance of bats for rabies in the UK since 1986 has found only nine bats, of over 10,000 tested, with the live virus (the tenth bat identified with the live virus was through active surveillance work). All have been Daubenton's bats, which tend not to roost in buildings.
- 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 they do not approach or handle a bat.
- 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. BCT takes a precautionary approach, and so advises that anyone who is bitten by a bat visits their GP for medical advice.
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.
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 0845 4647.
- 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 0845 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 the Health Protection Agency, tel 020 8200 6868).
- Always wear thick protective gloves when handling bats (call the Bat Helpline if you need our gloves factsheet)
- Follow the advice above if bitten
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 0845 1300 228 for advice on what to do with it. Killing the bat could reduce the chances of testing it properly for infection. Your bat worker or vet will need to assess the bat.
Anyone who regularly handles bats (i.e. bat rehabilitators and roost visitors) should be vaccinated against rabies. These vaccinations are available free of charge to this group of people and individuals should provide their GP with a copy of the documents below for information.
For further help and advice about this process please email Helen Miller.
Additional information can be found on the DEFRA website