Facts about bats and rabies
Since 1955 most of the human rabies cases in the United States have been caused by rabies virus strain from bats. Being Aware of this fact about bat rabies can help people protect themselves, their friends & family, and their pets.
When people think about bats, they often think of things from the movies. Bats are not blind. Bats do not fly into people’s hair or attack people. They are neither flying rodents nor birds. They will not suck your blood, and most do not have rabies.
Bats play key roles in ecosystems around the globe, from rain forests to deserts, especially by eating large numbers of insects. The best protection we can offer these unique mammals is to learn more about their habits and recognize the value of living safely with them.
What is rabies and how do humans contract it?
Rabies is an infectious viral disease that affects the nervous system of humans and other mammals. People get rabies from the bite of an animal with rabies (a rabid animal). Any warm-blooded wild mammal, like a bat, coyote, fox, raccoon or skunk can have rabies and transmit it to humans.
Rabies virus infects the central nervous system, causing encephalopathy and ultimately death. Early symptoms of rabies in humans are nonspecific, consisting of fever, headache, and general malaise. As the disease progresses, neurological symptoms appear and may include insomnia, anxiety, confusion, slight or partial paralysis, excitation, hallucinations, agitation, hypersalivation, difficulty swallowing, and hydrophobia (fear of water). Death usually occurs within days of the onset of symptoms.
Rabies is a fatal disease. Each year, thousands of humans are successfully protected from developing the rabies virus through vaccination after being bitten by an animal like a bat that may have rabies. The most common way for people to get rabies in the United States is through contact with a rabid bat.
The number of rabies-related human deaths in the United States has declined from more than 100 annually at the turn of the twentieth century to one or two per year in the 1990’s. Modern day treatment has proven nearly 100% successful. In the United States, human fatalities associated with rabies occur in people who fail to seek medical assistance, usually because they were unaware of their exposure.
In some cases, the person who died of rabies knew they were bitten by a bat. They didn’t go to a doctor to receive the rabies vaccine, maybe because they didn t know that bats can have rabies and transmit it to humans through a bite or scratch. Whatever their reasoning, those people didn’t recognize the risk of rabies from the bite of a wild animal, particularly a bat, and they didn’t seek medical treatment. Awareness of the facts about bats and rabies can help people protect themselves, their families, and their pets.