Rabies and Bats

Bats, the flying critters that are commonly demonized in horror movies and ghost tales, are actually quite beneficial to our ecosystem here in Wisconsin. Contrary to popular belief, bats are not blind, they are not rodents or birds and they won’t suck your blood. Instead, they are a major predator of night-flying insects and pests that cost farmers billions of dollars annually. In addition, studies of bats have contributed to medical advances including the development of navigational aids for the blind.

Though only a very small percentage of bats are rabies carriers, they are still the most common cause of animal to human transmission here in the United States. Rabies is a deadly virus spread to people from the saliva of infected animals usually through a bite.

More awareness of the facts about bats and rabies can help you protect yourself, your family and your pets as well as clear up any misunderstandings about bats.​

Bat Bites

Most importantly, if you know you have been bitten by a bat or have come in contact with infectious materials such as saliva from a bat, wash the affected area thoroughly and get medical advice immediately.  Waiting until you show signs and symptoms of rabies is almost always fatal, but if treated quickly enough, anti-rabies treatments are very effective. Several thousand people are successfully treated each year after being bitten by rabid animals. Those that die from the disease usually are those that didn’t seek medical attention.

It is possible for bat bites to go unnoticed especially if the recipient is sleeping when bitten, a small child who cannot express themselves well, or is mentally or physically impaired in some way. Bats have very small teeth that may leave marks not easily seen. Pets can acquire the rabies virus through a bat bite as well.

Whenever possible, the offending bat should be captured and sent to a laboratory for rabies testing since that is the only way to confirm the presence of the virus. To safely capture a bat, you must use precautions to ensure that you are not the next recipient of a bite.​

How to Catch a Bat

If there is any chance that a person or pet had contact with the bat, the bat should be captured safely, without touching it, and tested for rabies. You will need the following supplies:

  • Leather work gloves
  • Container such as a small box, coffee can, or bowl
  • Tape
  • Piece of cardboard that covers the container; with a pen, punch about a dozen airholes in the cardboard

Follow these steps:

  1. Close all doors and windows.
  2. Put on leather work gloves.
  3. When the bat lands, approach it slowly and without touching it, place the container over it then slide the cardboard under the container to trap the bat inside. Tape the cardboard to the container, securing the bat inside.
  4. If you, a member of your family, or a pet had skin-to-skin contact with the ​bat call your local health department or animal control authority to arrange for testing.
  5. If you are certain there was no contact between the bat and any people or pets in your home, carefully hold the cardboard over the container and take the bat outdoors and release it away from people and pets.

If you cannot safely contain a bat, call your local animal control authority to remove the bat for you.

Preventing Rabies

  • Teach children never to handle unfamiliar animals, wild or domestic, even if they appear friendly. Love your own, leave other animals alone” is a good principle to teach children.
  • Wash any wound from an 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.
  • Prevent bats from entering living quarters or occupied spaces in homes, churches, schools and other similar areas where they might contact people and pets.
  • Be a responsible pet owner by keeping vaccinations current for all dogs, cats and ferrets.

For more detailed information, please download our brochure Bats and Rabies: A Public Health Guide.