While bats are overwhelmingly advantageous to our environment, they are the leading cause of rabies deaths in people throughout the United States. The CDC (Center for Disease Control) reports that while only 19 cases of rabies were reported in the U.S. between 1997 and 2006, 17 were associated with bats, and three of those were unaware they had even come into contact with a bat.
While only 19 cases of rabies from bats during a nine-year period show that bat bites and rabies in bats are rare, it does occur. Knowing the facts about bats and rabies is important.
What Does a Bat Bite Look Like?
Many people wonder what bat bites look like. For most common bats, bat bites do not have the appearance of Dracula-type fang marks. The most common bats that humans might encounter are brown bats, and their teeth are extremely sharp. However, because their teeth are so small, most bites do not appear as bites at all.
Bat teeth can scratch exposed skin or they can puncture the skin, but the bite resembles the appearance of a pinprick if it is visible at all. Rarely do the teeth leave the appearance of a full set of teeth biting. Larger bats can give a more serious wound. These bats are usually solitary bats that only encounter humans if people go into caves or other areas where these bats are found.
In other parts of the world, vampire bats can attack livestock as this species of bats feed on blood, but these bats are generally not found in the United States (recently vampire bats have shown up in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas). Vampire bats fly low to find a host, land, and crawl onto the host to determine where the blood flows closest to the surface. They then make a small incision and lap up the blood from the wound.
While direct contact with bats is rare, it is important to be aware of the dangers of bat bites and take any direct contact very seriously.
Why Do Bats Bite?
Bats bite only if they are sick, threatened, or trapped, such as in a shirt. This rare. Physicians cannot look at a bite and diagnose it as a bat bite with complete certainty.
Bats can get into your home in a few ways. One can fly in through an open window. Or, the more likely scenario is that you have bats roosting in your chimney, attic, or walls, and one found its way into the house. Even though you are not provoking the bat while you sleep, it can become disoriented, feel trapped and think it is acting in self-defense.
What To Do if a Bat Is in Your House
Any potential contact with a bat needs to be taken seriously. For instance, if you wake up to find a bat in your room, assume you’ve been bitten. When a bat is within your living space, call a professional wildlife specialist to capture the bat to have it tested for rabies. If the bat is dead, wear gloves and place it in a bag or container and call your local public health department for instructions on what to do.
Seek Medical Attention
People are most at risk of a bite from a sick or injured bat. Children are sometimes bitten when they try to pick up bats that they find on the ground.
Professionals are trained to manage pests and keep them out of your home, but a doctor is the only one who is qualified to treat wounds. The doctor will also decide if the bite victim needs a vaccination. Experts at the CDC stress that if someone is bitten by a bat, it is urgent that he or she be taken to a doctor. If you suspect that someone may have been bitten by a bat, that person should seek medical attention.
Preventing Bat Bites
The best way to prevent bat bites is to keep them from roosting in your home:
- Seal all gaps in your attic by going into your attic and looking for all the places where you can see daylight
- Cover and screen all vents and your chimney
- Seal any gaps in windows and repair torn screens
It is important to note, though, that when working with bats or near bats, personal protective equipment should be used including thick gloves and clothing covering all exposed skin where possible. If anyone touches bats without protection, it should be assumed that a bite may have occurred. Thoroughly examine the skin for any scratches and if possible retain any bat that has been in contact with bare skin.