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K-State Today

September 23, 2015

Bats and rabies: What you need to know

Submitted by Mylissia Smith and Susan Moore

In recognition of World Rabies Day, Sept. 28, the Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory reminds students, faculty and staff that bats, which have been sighted on Kansas State University's Manhattan campus, have the potential to carry rabies.

Rabies, a serious life-threatening disease, is preventable with the proper education and action. It is important to know the facts and how best to protect yourself:

Bats can transmit rabies to humans and animals.

Though rabies deaths are uncommon in the United States, it is one of the world's most deadly diseases resulting in as many as 70,000 human deaths worldwide each year. The primary source of human deaths from rabies in the U.S. is from bats. 

Transmission primarily occurs from a bite of an infected animal.

The transmission of rabies from animals to humans primarily occurs from a bite of an infected animal through the saliva. Although additional routes of transmission from animals to humans occur they are rare. While all mammals can contract and spread rabies, in the U. S. rabies is primarily carried by skunks, bats, raccoons, foxes and coyotes.

Never touch a bat.

You cannot tell if a bat has rabies by looking at it. If a bat is sighted in a building, contact animal control, police department or county public health department for safe capture and possible testing if the bat shows signs of unusual behavior. If the bat is sighted in a residence hall or rental property, contact the building manager or landlord so they can take proper action.

If bitten by any animal, take it seriously.

Bats have small teeth and bite marks may not be apparent as bite marks can disappear quickly — within 30 minutes. All bat bites, regardless of size or sensitivity must be taken seriously. If bitten by any animal wash the wound aggressively for several minutes with soap and water, report the incident and seek medical advice immediately. While rabies has a mortality rate of 99.9 percent it is 100 percent preventable in humans by wound care and vaccination. 

Even individuals who have possibly been exposed to rabies should see a doctor.

Individuals who have been exposed or have possibly been exposed to the rabies virus need to get postexposure prophylaxis. Possible exposure includes finding a bat in the same room as a person, who might be unaware, such as during sleep, that a bite or direct contact had occurred. Post-exposure vaccinations are administered in the upper arm and are not particularly painful and will allow you to continue in your daily activities. Also, an injection of rabies immune globulin is given in the area around and into the wounds. Any remaining volume is injected into muscles at a site distant from vaccine administration.

Bats are an important part of our ecosystem and they are wild animals.

Bats most commonly roost in buildings, trees and caves but they have been known to roost in less common areas such as under picnic tables and under umbrellas left in the outdoors.  Bats hiss and make screeching sounds as a defense mechanism if they feel threatened.  Although the majority of bats can take flight from the ground, a few species of bats have difficulties and people often mistake this behavior as being ill or rabid. 

Read more information from the Riley County Health Department Rabies Public Health Guide, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Bat Conservation International or the Global Alliance for Rabies Control