Animal & Plant Health Agency passive surveillance programme

BCT encourages bat workers and members of the public to submit dead bats to the Animal & Plant Health Agency's (APHA) passive surveillance programme. During the current travel restrictions around COVID-19 (and the focus of many Government laboratories on testing for COVID-19) some temporary changes have been introduced around the rabies passive surveillance programme, these are explained below.

What is the passive surveillance programme?

APHA tests bat specimens, which have been sent in by members of the public and local bat workers, for European Bat Lyssaviruses (EBLV). The surveillance programme was established in 1986, following concerns that EBLV might be brought into the UK by bats crossing over from Europe.

Since 1986 over 15,000 bat specimens have been processed by APHA. Of these, five bats have tested positive for EBLV1 (all serotines) and 24 bats (all Daubenton's bats) have tested positive for EBLV2 (an additional case, making a total of 30 EBLV-positive bats, was found through a different surveillance programme). A summary table of the APHA cases can be found on the GOV.UK website.

APHA are especially interested in Daubenton’s bats, serotines, Natterer’s bats, and Brandt’s bats as well as any vagrant species (including any common bent-winged bats) but all species are accepted.

Why does BCT encourage bat workers to submit dead bats for testing?

This programme significantly contributes to our understanding of EBLV in the UK, and its results ensure that good practice guidelines, with regards to rabies and bats, is evidence-based.

How do I submit a bat for testing?

During the current COVID-19 pandemic APHA will be prioritising bats that meet the following criteria:

  1. The bat has been involved in a contact incident (e.g. a bite or scratch) with a person, and/or
  2. The bat was exhibiting symptoms of rabies prior to its death.

At this time the National Bat Helpline is only able to send out a limited number of packs for submission of bats to APHA. These will be restricted to cases meeting the above criteria. If you have a dead bat that you would like to submit for testing, but which doesn’t meet these criteria, please retain it (if you can do so safely and securely) for submission once travel restrictions have been lifted.

If this applies, please:

  • Contact the BCT helpline on 0345 1300 228 to request a tube or complete the online form;
  • Place the dead bat inside the tube;
  • Seal the tube and wrap it in an absorbant material, e.g. kitchen roll;
  • Complete the submission form; and
  • Send to APHA in the freepost envelope provided.

BAT 1 submission forms are available from the GOV.UK website and from the National Bat Helpline.

The Helpline will endeavour to send out a tube as soon as possible so that you can submit that bat within seven days to APHA. Whilst waiting for your tube to arrive the dead specimen should be kept somewhere cool.

At this time the National Bat Helpline is only able to send out a limited number of packs for submission of bats to APHA. These will be restricted to cases meeting the above criteria. If you have a dead bat that you would like to submit for testing, but which doesn’t meet these criteria, please retain it (if you can do so safely and securely - see section below) for submission once travel restrictions have been lifted.

Storage & submission of bats after COVID-19 travel restrictions are lifted

Once travel restrictions are lifted then please request dead bat packs as usual from the National Bat Helpline. You can do this online via the form found on our website: https://www.bats.org.uk/advice/found-a-dead-bat/testing-dead-bats, by emailing enquiries@bats.org.uk, or calling 0345 1300 228.

In the meantime, to safely store the bat until we are able to send out a pack (after COVID-19 travel restrictions have been lifted) we recommend that you turn a bag inside out, then put the bag over your hand as if putting on a glove and carefully pick up the bat with it. Use your other hand to fold the sides of the bag up and around the bat so that the bag is now the right side out. Place this bag, which now contains the bat, into another bag. Tightly tie or seal this second bag before placing it in your freezer, appropriately and clearly labelled. Please ensure this is not accessible to children or pets.

Submission of rarer species

Over 70% of specimens submitted to APHA have been pipistelles. To try and help address this bias, greater and lesser horseshoes, Bechstein's, barbastelles and grey long-eared bats may, in exceptional cases, be returned to the sender, provided the specimen tests negative for EBLV. This requires APHA to undertake a different test though. So please make clear on the BAT 1 form if you would like to request this service and APHA will make every effort to accommodate your wishes.