Questions & Answers for the general public on bats

 

1. Q. What is bat rabies?

A. European Bat Lyssaviruses (EBLVs) 1 and 2, commonly referred to as bat rabies, are two strains of rabies-related lyssaviruses found in bats across Northern Europe. On rare occasions EBLVs have been known to infect other animals and humans. The risk of EBLV infection to humans is thought to be low. However, since 1977 there have been four human deaths from rabies in Europe attributed to EBLV infections, all in cases where the human had been bitten or scratched by bats and had not received rabies vaccination either before or after being bitten by bats.

2. Q. Is there bat rabies in Britain?

A. To date four infections with EBLV 2 have been confirmed in bats in the UK despite the testing around 200 bats a year since 1986 for the virus.

 

September 2004 in Surrey when EBLV 2 was confirmed in a juvenile female Daubenton's bat. The grounded bat was moved under cover by a member of the public, where it remained for several days between 17 and 21 September. It was then taken into the care of experienced bat conservation group volunteers and died on 23 September.

 

October 2003 in Lancashire when EBLV 2 was confirmed in a Daubenton's bat. The injured bat died on 2 October 2003 and was stored in a freezer until it was sent for testing on 26 October 2004.

 

September 2002 in Lancashire when EBLV 2 was confirmed in a Daubenton's bat which was behaving uncharacteristically and was involved in a human biting incident. The person involved received post-exposure treatment and did not develop rabies.

 

May 1996 in Sussex when EBLV 2 was confirmed in a Daubenton's bat was found to be infected with EBLV 2.

 

3. Q. Have there been any other incidents of bat rabies in the UK?

A. In November 2002, a bat handler in Angus, Scotland died from infection with EBLV 2 and is thought to have had contact with numerous bats.

 

4. Q. How do people catch bat rabies?

A.EBLV is spread from bats through a bite, scratch or through contact with mucous membranes (e.g. eyes, nose, mouth). Therefore if people do not handle bats they are not at risk from EBLVs.

 

5. Q. What should I do if I am bitten by a bat?

A. In the event of possible exposure, first, and as soon as possible after the incident, clean the wound thorough flushing with soap or detergent and water under a running tap for several minutes. Additional cleansing of the wound site with an alcohol base or other disinfectant is also recommended. Cover the wound with a simple dressing and immediately seek medical advice. Do not panic. Immediate medical treatment on being bitten is extremely effective in ensuring that you will not develop rabies.

 

6. Q. What should I do if I suspect a bat has rabies?

A. By law, if you suspect any animal, including a bat, of having rabies, you must immediately report it to your local Defra Animal Health Office or Local Authority. Anyone finding a bat which appears to be sick or ailing should not approach or handle it.

 

7. Can bat rabies be passed to other animals?

A. The viruses bats carry are not classical rabies virus, the rabies strain carried by animals such as dogs, cats, foxes etc. EBLVs very rarely cross the species barrier from bats to other animals or humans. There have been no recorded cases of rabies in UK wildlife or pet animals. However, on two occasions sheep have been infected with EBLV 1 in Denmark and the same strain was detected in a stone marten in Germany.

 

8. My pet dog/cat caught a bat recently/some time ago. What should I do?

A. Keep your pet under observation. If the animal falls sick, shows nervous signs or starts behaving abnormally you should take it to your veterinary surgeon and give a full history of the incident.

 

9. Q. Should I get rid of my local bats?

A. No. Bats are protected species and must not be disturbed, killed or their roosts damaged or destroyed. 

 

10. I have bats in my buildings. What should I do?

A. People are not at risk if they have no direct contact with bats. As a precaution if anyone comes across a bat they should not handle it. If the bat is injured or needs moving they should ring the Bat Conservation Trust Helpline on 0845 130 0228 for advice. In Scotland, if the bat appears uninjured, they may also phone the Scottish Natural Heritage Bat Helpline on 01738 458663 for pre-recorded advice or, if the bat appears injured, they can also contact the Scottish SPCA on 0870 7377722. The four incidents in the UK so far have involved Daubenton's bats which do not commonly roost in houses.

 

11. Q. What should I do if I find a sick or injured bat?

A. You should not handle the bat but seek advice from a local bat conservation group or the Bat Conservation Trust Helpline on 0845 130 0228. In Scotland you can also contact the Scottish SPCA on 0870 7377722.

 

12. Q. What should I do if there is a bat flying around in my house?

A. You should close the doors to the rest of the house and open the room's windows and curtains. The bat should then fly out. You can get further advice from the Bat Conservation Trust Helpline on 0845 130 0228. In Scotland you can also phone the Scottish Natural Heritage Bat Helpline on 01738 458663 for pre-recorded advice.

 

13. Q. I work with bats. What should I do?

A. If you work with or regularly handle bats you should seek advice on vaccination from your local GP and discuss this with your employer. Further information is supplied by the Bat Conservation Trust

 

14. Q. Do I need routine rabies vaccination?

A. No, not unless in the course of your work you may be at risk of exposure to infection e.g. you regularly handle bats. You can seek advice from your general practitioner. If you handle bats as part of your work, and a risk assessment reveals the need for vaccination, employers should make vaccination free of charge to you. You should always wear protective gloves when handling bats even if you are vaccinated.

 

15. Q. What has the Government done?

A. For the last 18 years Defra has tested over 4,000 dead bats for EBLV and except for the Sussex (1996), Lancashire (2002 and 2003) and Surrey (2004) incidents EBLV 2 has not been found. In 2003, various Government agencies and departments began surveillance into the extent EBLV in bats in England and Scotland. In 2004, a three year study, funded by Defra, began in England. Further work is also being conducted in Scotland by the Scottish Executive and Scottish Natural Heritage.

 

16. Q. Are any results available from this surveillance?

A. Results of the surveillance carried out in 2003 on the prevalence of EBLVs showed a low level of antibodies in one bat species in some areas in England and Scotland.

The preliminary results from the first 12 months of the three year study indicate there is a low prevalence of EBLV2 in Daubenton's bats. A single serotine bat was found to be EBLV1 antibody positive. A single sample is not statistically significant, so further work on this species will be undertaken in 2005.

 

17. Q. Where are these bats found?

A. Daubenton's bats are found throughout most of the UK, while serotine bats are found across southern England and Wales. The Daubenton's bat mainly roosts in trees whereas the rarer serotine roosts in buildings.

 

 

Further information can be found on the following websites:

Bat Conservation Trust