17th July 2019
We are aware that there are a number of articles circulating relating to an incident of a child coming into contact with a bat. We would like to clarify some of the facts by sharing the answers we provided to the writer who originally contacted us with a series of questions around the incident, the answers to which we are sharing below.
Public Health England (PHE) also issued the following statement from Dr Kevin Brown at the same time:
“The risk of catching rabies from bats in the UK is very low, with the last human case of rabies contracted from a bat in 2002. Rabies has not been found in pipistrelles – the type of bat most commonly found in UK homes. However, as a precautionary measure, PHE recommends a course of rabies vaccine for people who have been bitten by any species of bat.
Bat bites and scratches are often felt and not seen. They may not always bleed or leave an obvious mark on the skin. Wearing thick gloves if you have to touch a bat will reduce the chance of you being bitten.”
We encourage anyone who comes into physical contact with a bat to get in touch with the National Bat Helpline. The precautionary principle is always applied and callers are told to seek further advice from medical practitioners in line with advice by Public Health England and The Animal and Plant Health Agency.
Questions asked in relation to the story that is circulating:
1) How unusual is it for bats to get into homes?
Bats don’t want to enter the living areas of people’s homes but it does happen by accident occasionally. This may be linked to young bats who are still learning to fly or who lose their way when leaving or returning to the family roost. This is particularly true at this time of year when the equivalent of teenage bats are becoming independent.
2) How often do bats get into people’s homes?
It’s difficult to say for sure but approximately 25% of the 13,550 enquiries the National Bat Helpline received in 2018 related to bats found on or inside buildings although often the buildings are not where people live, places such as sheds, barns or abandoned buildings. Obviously the figures we have only include those incidents where people call the National Bat Helpline for advice in relation to bats flying in buildings as well as grounded, injured or orphaned bats.
3) Was it disorientated?
Impossible to say for sure. Bats can end up indoors for any number of reasons such as young bats learning to fly who get lost and end up in living areas.
4) Also - I know pipistrelle's eat insects but have they been known to scratch humans and lick (not suck) blood?
UK bat species only feed on insects although some also eat spiders. UK bats do not bite people unless they are handled/trapped.
5) Are numbers of pipistrelle bats on the rise or are they declining?
We have encouraging signs that a combination of legislation and education have assisted the partial recovery of some bat species in the UK, including the common pipistrelle, after significant historical declines in the last century.
Despite the fact that bats are a vital part of our native wildlife they are highly misunderstood and undervalued. They account for almost a third of all mammal species in the UK and occupy a wide range of habitats. They are top predators of common nocturnal insects and are sensitive to changes in land use practices which can tell us a lot about the environment we all rely on. To find out more about bats: https://www.bats.org.uk/about-bats/why-bats-matter
Further information about bats and rabies in the UK:
9th July 2020