Rabies and Bat Encounters

Rabies is a viral disease that attacks the central nervous system and once symptoms begin it is always fatal. The virus is found in the saliva of an infected animal and transmitted through a bite or scratch, or if infected saliva gets into an open cut or wound.

If you suspect someone has been exposed to rabies, either by being bitten or by handling a wild animal that is behaving abnormally, wash the area with copious amounts of soap and water for 10 minutes. Contact your physician or local hospital and the State Department of Public Health at 617-983-6800 as soon as possible for guidance on vaccination (post-exposure prophylaxis) and treatment. All cats and dogs should be vaccinated yearly against rabies. Keeping cats indoors helps ensure they will not interact with rabid wildlife, including bats.

Rabies Treatment
Rabies vaccine (post-exposure prophylaxis) should be given to a person immediately after exposure to the rabies virus to prevent them from getting rabies. The treatment no longer requires a series of shots in the abdomen and is now just 6 shots given over a four to six week period.

Bats & Rabies

As with most mammals, including dogs and cats, bats can carry the rabies virus.  It is estimated that the number of bats carrying rabies is  less than one percent. Rabid bats are rarely aggressive toward humans and usually die shortly after becoming infected; however, bats infected with rabies may behave abnormally.  Any bat that behaves abnormally, including being visible during daylight hours, should be avoided. Good judgment will help eliminate the chances of humans and wildlife coming in close contact with each other. Children should be taught never to go near or pick up a bat; any wild animal will bite when handled. To prevent exposure to bats in your home, seal all openings in buildings which are the size of a quarter or larger to prevent bats from entering.

Situations & Solutions

Because bats are so efficient at controlling many of the insect species considered pests by humans, it is advantageous to leave them alone. Where bats inhabit buildings they are usually unobtrusive, hanging quietly from rafters during the day and exiting at night in search of food. Unlike squirrels, they are not destructive and do not gnaw on wood or wiring.

Single Bat in a Living Space

Unintentionally, bats may enter areas occupied by humans through an open window or door, or an opening from a colonized attic or wall. A bat indoors is not necessarily a sick bat; it may be a young bat who tried to follow its mother outside and took a wrong turn or it may have followed a moth through an open window.

According to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (MDPH) if there is a possibility that a bat came in contact with people or pets it should be captured for testing. If possible, confine the bat to one room and call the local animal control officer or a private pest control company and the MDPH at 617-983-6800 (available 24 hours)  for more information. An attempt can be made to capture the bat if it lands in a spot where a coffee can or wide mouthed jar can be safely placed over it. Slide cardboard under the coffee can, leave the bat under the container and notify the local animal control officer or police. It will be transported to the MDPH Laboratory for testing.

Bat in a Child's Room or other Sleeping Quarters

In all situations where a bat is found in a child's room (or even an adult's room if someone has been sleeping), contact the MDPH at 617-983-6800 (24 hours). Because a bat's teeth and claws are so small, it is often impossible to determine whether someone has been bitten while they slept. In these situations, consult with  MDPH to determine whether you or your child should receive post-exposure prophylaxis vaccine.

Other Areas

Confine the bat to one room by closing doors. Open windows, turn off the lights and leave the room. Hitting the bat or throwing things at it will cause it to become disoriented making it harder for the bat to find its way out. Do not try to capture the bat unless there is the possibility it has bitten or scratched someone. Make an attempt only if the bat lands and there is no risk in placing a wide-mouthed jar or coffee can over it. To handle the captured bat, wear thick gloves and release the bat outdoors.