Bats do carry rabies, and are one of the primary vectors for rabies exposure in the United States. The Florida Department of Health website provides statistics specific to Florida, including county and species specific data. Although bats are rabies vectors, raccoons and foxes have a higher incidence of rabies than bats do. Still, many people fear bats more as a rabies vector, and the primary reason is because of misinformation or a lack of knowledge about bats. Popular culture and media representations of bats may have made this worse by creating fear or worry about bats.
Most bats do not have rabies. For example, even among bats submitted for rabies testing in the U.S. (these only included bats capable of being captured), only about 6 percent had rabies. There is no way to determine if a bat has rabies by simply looking at it. Rabies can only be confirmed in a laboratory. A bat that is unable to fly and is easily approached could very well be sick.
Rabies is a fatal disease, but there are usually only one or two human rabies cases each year in the U.S.
Key facts about bats and rabies
- Rabies is contracted from the saliva or brain matter of infected animals. A person has zero chance of getting rabies if not in direct contact with one of these materials.
- Bats do carry rabies. However, any mammal is capable of carrying rabies, and in Florida, foxes and raccoons have a higher incidence of rabies than bats do.
- All native bats in Florida are insectivorous, meaning they eat only insects and bats usually avoid people.
- Bats with rabies get sick and die, just like any other animal. They do not become aggressive but will bite if handled.
- Don’t touch or go near any wild animal, particularly one that is not acting normally.
Coming in contact with bats
Teach people, especially children, never to handle bats or any unfamiliar animals, wild or domestic, even if they appear friendly. Wash any wound from a bat or other animal thoroughly with soap and water and seek medical attention immediately. Have all dead, sick, or easily captured bats tested for rabies if exposure to people or pets occurs.
People often know when they’ve been bitten by a bat, but most types of bats have very small teeth which may leave marks that disappear quickly. If you are bitten by a bat -- or infectious material (such as saliva or brain material) from a bat gets into your eyes, nose, mouth, or a wound -- wash the affected area thoroughly with soap and water and get medical advice immediately. Whenever possible, the bat should be captured and sent to the county health department for rabies testing. Bats can be captured by placing a clear plastic container over them and sliding the lid under, trapping the bat inside. Also, a butterfly net can be used, but care must be taken to avoid contact with the bat.
People can’t get rabies just from seeing a bat in an attic, in a cave, at summer camp, or from a distance while it is flying. In addition, people can’t get rabies from having contact with bat guano (feces), blood, or urine or from touching a bat on its fur.
If you think your pet has been bitten by a bat, contact a veterinarian or your health department for assistance immediately and have the bat tested for rabies. Remember to keep rabies vaccinations current for cats, dogs and other animals.
The best long-term solution to health and safety concerns regarding bats is taking steps to prevent them from entering living quarters or occupied spaces in homes, churches, businesses, schools and other similar areas where they might come into contact with people and pets.