Bats and rabies FAQ's
Bats in the UK and rabies
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.
Over 19,000 UK bats have been submitted to the Animal & Plant Health Agency for EBLV testing since 1986, with over 15,000 bats tested (not all bats submitted are suitable for testing), through its passive surveillance programme and only a small number of bats (<40) have been found with EBLV. These bats have been sent in by members of the public and bat workers.
The presence of EBLV in bats in the UK does not affect the UK's rabies-free status as this relates to classical rabies only.
What do I do if I find a dead bat?
If you find a dead bat please complete the online form to request 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. If you have any questions or concerns please call the National Bat Helpline on 0345 1300 228.
Can people catch rabies from bats?
The risk of catching the virus 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 EBLV-positive bats from over 15,000 tested.
- Human contact with bats is very rare, even when they share the same buildings.
- EBLV are transmitted by the bite of 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 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 as soon as possible.
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 suggest people 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 you have been vaccinated against rabies. You can also call the NHS Direct Helpline on 111. Additional information is available from Public Health England and it may be useful to refer to this when you speak to your GP.
- If the bat is alive, retained and there is any suspicion of rabies you must also report the bite to APHA immediately (if in doubt about whether the bat is indeed showing signs of rabies please call APHA for advice). The contact details are as follows:
- In England - Call Defra Rural Services Helpline on 03000 200 301 and follow the phone menu options to be put through to APHA.
- In Scotland - find contact details for the relevant local APHA Field Office on the GOV.UK website.
- In Wales - contact APHA in Wales on 0300 303 8268 and follow the phone menu options.
- In Northern Ireland - contact Damian McFerran or Michael McCourt at the Ulster Museum 028 9039 5264; or Declan Looney Department of Environment (Northern Ireland) 028 905 69602 / Declan.Looney@doeni.gov.uk Please contact Damian or Michael first of all.
- There are some situations when it is appropriate to release a bat - but only if the bat has been seen flying very recently and it is a warm evening (do not release a bat during the winter or outside temperatures are otherwise below 5°C).
- If a bat is flying indoors during the day, it is easiest to contain it once it has landed and release it at dusk. Always wear gloves to handle bats.
- If the bat is flying during the evening, and the weather is good, open windows and switch off the lights and the bat should find its own way out. You may want to check the room after a couple of hours, or stand outside to be sure that the bat has safely found its way out.
- If the bat is injured then contain the bat so that further advice can be sought (see bullet below). 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 National Bat Helpline on 0345 1300 228 to arrange care for the bat. If the Helpline is unavailable please take the bat to a local vet for assistance.
Bat workers and animal rescue staff trained to handle bats for conservation and welfare purposes should:
- Always wear protective gloves when handling bats
- Ensure they have up-to-date rabies vaccination protection (and see link to relevant documents below)
- 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 only available free of charge to volunteers who regularly handle 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 pre-exposure vaccinations and how to obtain them please see the rabies pre-exposure vaccinations information.
Additional information can be found on the GOV.UK website
All those handling bats should wear gloves. 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 see the Resources for bat groups pages.