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.
COVID-19 is a zoonosis, a human disease of animal origin. However, the animal source of SARS-CoV-2, the virus behind the COVID-19 pandemic, has not yet been confirmed. It is likely to have its ancestral origins in a bat species but it may reached humans through an intermediary species, or mutated within humans to be able to be transmitted between people and cause disease. It is important to note that subsequent transmission of COVID-19 is from person to person. It is transmission between people that has spread the disease globally. Please see COVID-19 and Bats for a set of frequently asked questions specific to bats and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (or SARS) was identified in Asia in 2002, and the virus (SARS-CoV) is thought to have originated in Chinese horseshoe bats, also 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.
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 website. Bat 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?
A small number of bats in the UK have been found to carry rabies viruses called European Bat Lyssaviruses. There are two known types: EBLV-1 and EBLV-2, both of which have been found in the UK. EBLV are not the classical rabies which is usually associated with dogs; classical rabies has never been recorded in a native European bat species.
EBLV are 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.
The Animal & Plant Health Agency (APHA) has tested over 13,000 UK bats since 1986 for EBLV through its passive surveillance programme and less than 40 bats have been found with EBLV. These bats have been sent in by members of the public and bat workers.
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 found in UK bats that can be passed from bats to people is rabies, caused by European Bat Lyssaviruses (EBLV) which have been found in a small number of bats. The risk of catching EBLV from a bat in the UK is very small, for several reasons:
- Passive surveillance of bats for rabies in the UK since 1986 has found only a small number of bats positive for EBLV from over 13,000 tested.
- Human contact with bats is very rare, even when they share the same buildings.
- EBLV are transmitted by the bite or scratch from an infectious bat or by its saliva entering a wound or mucous membrane. There is therefore no risk to you 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 post-exposure treatment available from GPs for those exposed to EBLV; this must be administered as soon as possible after exposure.
- Sadly, in 2002 a bat worker from Scotland died from rabies caused by infection with EBLV-2, which is why BCT takes a precautionary approach and advises that anyone who is bitten by a bat obtains advice from his/her GP as soon as possible.
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 rabies caused by European Bat Lyssaviruses (EBLV) (which have only been found in a small number of bats) 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 people. 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 rabies caused by European Bat Lyssaviruses (EBLV) (which have only been found in a small number of bats). EBLV are 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 small number of bats in the UK carry European Bat Lyssaviruses (EBLV). Wearing thick gloves if you need to handle a bat will reduce the risk to the handler, as the virus can only be transmitted via direct contact (e.g. a bite or a scratch). 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.
There have been a small number of cases where EBLV have been found in animals other than bats, but there have been no recorded cases in domestic pets such as dogs or cats in the UK. As a precaution, however, we would advise that pets should be kept away from bats. If you are a pet-owner and concerned about the potential risk to your pet we would suggest you discuss this with your vet.
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. However, bats don’t host any more disease-causing (zoonotic) viruses than any other groups of animals (mammals and birds) of similar species diversity. There are more than 1,400 different bat species, the second largest group of mammals by species. Taken as a group, bats are considered ‘reservoirs’ (long-term hosts) of a number of viruses but most of these are not harmful and cannot be passed to humans.
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 diseases. 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 in the UK have been associated with travel to other parts of the world where Histoplasmosis is endemic. It 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.