Bats are members of the order Chiroptera, originating from the Greek cheir, meaning hand, and pteron, meaning wing. Bats have forelimbs that form webbed wings, making them the only mammals naturally capable of flight. There are two kinds of bats: Megachiroptera also known as megabats and Microchiroptera, also known as microbats or echolocating bats; bats that use sound or vibration to locate food, other bats, predators, etc.
Many people, when they think of bats, often associate them with having rabies. This is not entirely true, as not all bats have rabies, but there are certain signs one can look for when trying to determine if a bat is infected with rabies. Also, if a bat were to bite an individual, it sometimes cannot be detected because bats have small teeth therefore searching for bite marks is hard to find.
Bat Population in Indiana
In Indiana, the bat population is actually becoming scarce, causing these Indiana Bats, as they are called, to become endangered. Indiana Bats are usually all black and about 1.2 to 2 inches in size. Bats, among other things, are actually good for the environment. Bats are natural predators to insects, especially those that harm crops on farms that cost farmers over a billion dollars to control. However, bats like many other non-domesticated animals can carry rabies and the proper precautions must be taken when coming in contact with this or any other wild animal.
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 wild mammal, like a raccoon, skunk, fox, or bat, can have rabies and transmit it to people. It is also possible, but quite rare, that people may get rabies if infectious material from a rabid animal, such as saliva, gets directly into their eyes, nose, mouth, or a wound.
Rabies is a fatal disease, so the goal of public health is, first, to prevent human exposure to rabies by education and, second, to prevent the disease by anti-rabies immunization if exposure occurs. Tens of thousands of people are successfully vaccinated each year after being bitten by an animal that may have rabies. However, a few people die of rabies each year in the United States, usually because they don't recognize the risk of rabies from the bite of a wild animal and don't seek medical advice.
Bats & Rabies
Rabies cases have often been associated with bats. Rumors and legends usually consist of bats being blind, bloodsuckers, or even birds. None of these are true. Most bats don't have rabies and there are only three species in Latin America that feed on blood after inflicting small bite wounds. As mentioned earlier in this section, bats play a key role in the ecosystems around the globe, from rainforests to deserts, especially by eating insects, including agricultural pests.
The best protection of bats is the value of understanding them and their habits and recognizing the value of safely living with them. People infected with rabies can only be confirmed of it in a laboratory. Another sign to look for if a bat is rabid is if a bat is active during the day. Bats are usually active during the night and often sleep in cool, dark places such as caves during the day. If a bat is seen during the day and/or is unable to fly is more likely than others to be rabid. Be aware, however, that there is no guarantee that a rabid bat will behave any differently than a normal one, so it is best never to handle any bat.
Contact With a Bat
If you come in contact with a bat and you are bitten or if infectious material (such as saliva) from a bat gets into your eyes, nose, mouth, or a fresh wound- wash the affected area thoroughly with soap and water and seek medical advice immediately. Whenever possible, a bat should be captured and taken to a laboratory for testing. People who have been bitten by a bat can usually tell because they can feel it. However, the most complex aspect of a bat bite is that it is hard to see. Bats have small teeth which may leave marks that cannot be easily seen, hence relinquishing the thought of being bitten. Those are the situations in which you should seek medical advice, especially in the absence of an obvious bite wound.
On certain occasions, with this example being the most important, if you are a deep sleeper or use sleep medications and find a bat in your bedroom or if you see a bat in the room of an unattended child or mentally impaired or intoxicated person, seek medical advice and have the bat tested immediately. People cannot get rabies just from seeing a bat in an attic, in a cave, or at a distance. In addition, people cannot get rabies from having contact with bat guano (feces), blood, or urine, or from touching a bat on its fur.
Finally, if you think your pet or domestic animal has been bitten by a bat, immediately contact a veterinarian or your health department for assistance and have the bat tested for rabies. Keeping up with current rabies vaccinations with your pets will help reduce the risk of them becoming infected with rabies.
Preventing Contact With Bats
Keeping Bats Out of Your Home
Bats may live in some buildings, but if they are not causing any harm, there is no need to bother with them. However, bats should always be prevented from coming into your home. Assistance with "bat-proofing" your home can be acquired by contacting your local animal control or wildlife conservation agency. If you want to do the "bat-proofing" personally, then here are some suggestions when doing so:
- Fill electrical and plumbing holes with steel wool or caulking
- Ensure that all doors to the outside are closed tightly
- Examine your home for holes. Any openings larger than a 1/4 to 1/2 an inch should be caulked
- Use window screens, chimney caps, and draft guards beneath doors to attics
Ensuring that all openings are secured is perhaps the best way to keep bats from entering your home. Bats are very fast and they are very agile, so any sort of opening can be maneuvered by them to come into your home. It is best to "bat-proof" your home during the fall or winter because this is when bats generally begin to hibernate.
The following are useful tips for preventing the spread of rabies:
- Always keep your pet up to date with rabies vaccinations. Any small animals should not be kept outside and dogs and cats should be watched or leashed in a safe environment
- Always wash any wound from an animal thoroughly with soap and water and seek medical attention immediately
- Prevent bats from living in areas you don't want them in, like homes, schools, offices, etc.
- Teach children to never handle unfamiliar animals, wild or domestic, even if they appear friendly