What should I do if I have a bat in the house?

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June 11, 2014
By: Dr. Teresa Hershey
Dr. Teresa Hershey

Dear Dr. Hershey,

I have heard that bats carry rabies, what should I do if I find a bat in the house?

Sean

Dear Sean,

Rabies is a virus that affects the nervous system and is deadly if rabies prophylaxis is not given in time to the exposed individual.  The virus is spread through saliva, most commonly through a bite. 

Symptoms of rabies can vary.  There is a “dumb form” in which the animal appears too docile, and the “furious form” in which the animal becomes vicious and will attack without provocation.

In Minnesota, skunks and bats are the most common rabies carriers, although many species of animals can carry and transmit the virus.   In 2012, there were 72 reported cases of rabies in Minnesota.  Of those 72 animals, 39 were bats, 21 were skunks, 4 were cats, 3 were cattle or bison, 2 were horses, one was a dog, one a fox and one a deer.

Just recently at our clinic we had a case of a bat that was found in the home, and tested positive for rabies.    The entire family, including the 9 month old baby had to get rabies prophylaxis shots.  Unfortuantely their cat had never been rabies vaccinated so the family was given the option of euthanasia or a 6 month in home quarantine to make sure that the cat did not exhibit any signed of rabies.  (The family elected quarantine). 

If a bat is found in the house, and there is any chance that someone had physical contact with the bat, the bat should be captured and tested for rabies.  If you wake up and find a bat in the house, or a bat is found in the room with a person that is sleeping, the bat should be tested since a bite could have occurred and you don’t know about it.  Bats have tiny teeth, and the mark they leave is difficult to see, so a bite wound may go unnoticed.

To capture a bat, find a container with a lid.  Do not use a pillowcase, blanket or towel.  Bats may bite through the fabric.  Wear gloves, approach the bat slowly, and put the container over the bat.  Then slide the cover under the container to trap the bat inside.  Seal the container with tape so he does not escape.  The bat should then be brought to the Minnesota Veterinary Diagnostic Lab. (See contact information below).  If the bat is found “after hours”, the bat can be brought to a local veterinarian for humane euthanasia.  During Diagnostic Lab business hours, a live bat may be brought to the facility, and they can euthanize it.

It is very important not to injure the head of the bat when trapping it.  If the bat is crushed or beaten, and the brain is damaged, it is likely that the lab will not be able to test the bat.  Also, if a dead bat is left in a container in the sun, and overheats, it is possible that the bat may not be tested.  Keep a dead bat refrigerated, or on ice (not frozen), until it can be delivered to the diagnostic lab.

If a bat is found in the house, and the bat made physical contact with a human in the house, or if it unknown if the bat made contact with a house member (like in the case of a bat found in the room with a sleeping child), and the bat is not available for testing, then your doctor and  the Minnesota Department of Health may recommend Rabies Post Exposure Treatment (PEP). These shots are no longer given in the abdomen, but rather are given in the arm.  There are series of 4 shots that each individual receives. 

The best thing is if the bat can be captured and tested.  Then there is no question as to whether or not the humans in the house need to have PEP performed.

Rabies is a preventable disease in many species of animals. It is very important to have your cat, dog, horse, or ferret vaccinated for rabies.   We see many cats every year whose owners don’t want to vaccinate their cats because they are indoors only.  But bats can come in the house, and the situation can be very complicated, and sometimes dangerous, if there is an unvaccianted animal that was in the house with a rabid bat.

Contact Information:

For information on rabies, call the Minnesota Department of Health at 651-201-5414 (M-F 8:00am- 4:30pm).

To submit an animal for rabies testing:

There is a fee of $26.25 for rabies testing (this doesn’t include euthanasia) You can find the specimen submission form on the Minnesota Board of Animal Health website mn.gov/bah/disease/rabies.

Samples should be hand delivered to:

Business hours (M-F 8:00am- 4:30pm) *Live bats accepted at this site. Minnesota Veterinary Diagnostic laboratory- University of Minnesota- St. Paul Campus 1333 Gortner Ave.  St. Paul, MN 55108 612-625-8787

Nonbusiness hours and holidays *Live bats are NOT accepted after business hours Veterinary Medical Center- Emergency Receiving- University of Minnesota-St. Paul Campus 1365 Gortner Ave.  St. Paul, MN 55108  612-625-9711