For the last 25 years, most of the domestically acquired cases of rabies in the U.S. have resulted from bats carrying the disease. Even though less than one percent of the bats are actually rabid, people mostly contract rabies by handling bats without exercising necessary precautions. Rescuing grounded bats bare-handed, and not seeking immediate medical attention when bitten, are the most common ways of putting yourself at risk.
As asymptomatic carriers of rabies, bats are less likely to be rabid as compared to other wild animals such as foxes, raccoons, coyotes, and skunks. Out of the 30,000 people that die from rabies every year, 99 percent of the cases are attributed to dogs.
Lyssavirus Rabies Virus
Caused by the Lyssavirus Rabies virus, rabies from bats is transmitted mostly through a bite. In rare cases, rabies can be transmitted if an individual comes in direct contact with the saliva, nervous tissues and mucous membrane of the nose, mouth, or eyes. Coming in contact with the bat’s fur, blood, urine or feces poses no risk, however, if you locate a bat near an unattended toddler, an intoxicated or a mentally handicapped person, it is best to see a doctor.
Since bats have small teeth, their bites are superficial, and not easily noticeable. Once the virus comes in contact with the bloodstream, the individual needs to be assigned a proper treatment by a professional practitioner, within the incubation period’. The recommended incubation period is between 12 to 48 hours, and varies depending on the individual and the bat. Ideally, the bat needs to be captured and tested for rabies as well, but this might seem difficult if the bat is not fully incapacitated. Unless the bat in question tests negative for rabies, the treatment is expected to begin without any further delay. Failure to seek effective treatment during the incubation period worsens the symptoms, eventually leading to certain death. It is important to note that there have been only one to two total cases in the United States where the patient has not survived rabies, indicating that early detection can save many lives.
Effects Of Rabies on Humans
Once the virus enters the human body, it attaches itself to the nervous system, working its way towards the brain. In most cases, the symptoms do not materialize immediately, and commonly include drooling, muscle-pain or spasms, hallucinations, convulsions and difficulty in speaking. The preliminary treatment for the bite involves washing the affected area under running water, to remove any remains of saliva from the wound. Anti-rabies shots come next, and at least 5 shots are given over a period of 14 days. Containing human immune globulin, the shots increase the human body’s ability to create antibodies, which interferes with the life cycle of the rabies’ virus. These antibodies bind themselves to the virus, and produce negri bodies’ that replicate and stop the disease from spreading. Earlier, the shots were administered in the abdominal area, however with medical advancement, they are usually injected in the upper thigh or the arm.
Rapid bats aren’t known to trigger an outbreak of the disease in other animals, and the chances of the virus spilling over to other species is very rare. It is advised to always vaccinate your dogs and cats, as there has been documentation of bat rabies variants in these animals.
Contrary to popular belief, inhabiting an area that is densely populated with bats, doesn’t increase the risk of humans contracting rabies. Bats in urban settings exist colonially, recording the highest densities in San Antonio, Austin, and various other Texas Hill Country areas. There has been no reported case of bat rabies, even though thousands of people gather at Congress Avenue Bridge, Texas, to observe the emerging of over a million Mexican free-tail bats, every summer. Learning how to ideally co-exist with bats, vaccinating your pets, and teaching your children to avoid handling bats, can go a long way in minimizing the risk of being bitten by a rabid bat. Be wary of over the top warnings, and information spread by the media and health officials. Illegally poisoning the bats in the surrounding areas, or employing unverified methods to drive them away, only increases the chances of a distorted incident. Homeless or scares bats are more likely to bite people and pets.