Bats and Rabies: A Public Health Concern

Bats and Rabies: A Public Health Concern

Bats play a significant role in our ecosystem, but can also carry diseases, including rabies.

Why do we care if Bats have Rabies?

Bats are a vital part of our ecosystem. They eat disease-carrying mosquitoes and crop-consuming insects. Unfortunately, bats also carry diseases that can be transmitted to humans.

Bats are the leading cause of human rabies deaths in the United States. According to the CDC, at least 7 out of 10 Americans who died from rabies in the U.S. were exposed to infected bats.

Bats are nocturnal creatures that typically avoid humans. Bats exhibiting unusual behavior, such as being active during the day, unable to fly, or easily approached, could be sick or rabid.

You can’t tell whether a bat has rabies by looking at it. Avoid contact with bats, as any direct encounter could result in scratches or bites.

What should I do if I encounter a bat?

In essence, any direct contact with a bat should be considered a possible rabies exposure. Infants, young children, and people with reduced mental function are at higher risk for unknown bat exposure. This is because they may not know or be able to tell others if they were bitten or scratched.

Bat scratches and bites can be very small and extremely difficult to see. Regardless, these injuries can still spread rabies.

If you have been bitten or scratched by a bat:

  • Wash the wound thoroughly with soap and water.
  • If possible, the bat should be captured (see below).
  • Seek medical attention as soon as possible afterward.

If you are outdoors:

  • Seeing bats outside is common and normal, especially at dusk and through the night.
  • Avoid contact with bats outside. Use screens, tents, or mosquito netting when sleeping outside.

If you are in your home:

  • If you find a bat in your home and it is possible that a human or pet could have been bitten or scratched, have the bat captured for rabies testing.
  • Seek appropriate medical care as soon as possible.
  • Talk to a healthcare or public health professional as soon as possible to determine if the bat should be tested and what follow-up is necessary.

How do I capture a bat for testing?

In some areas, animal control, wildlife conservation, or a public health agency may be able to assist with capturing bats. If professional assistance is not available:

  1. Find a container, such as a box or a can, large enough for the bat to fit in and a large piece of cardboard to cover the container opening. Punch small air holes in the cardboard.
  2. Put on leather work gloves. When the bat lands, approach it slowly and place the container over it. Slide the cardboard under the container to trap the bat inside.
  3. Tape the cardboard to the container to secure the bat inside. Contact your local health department to have the bat tested for rabies.

How can I keep bats out of my house?

You can contact an animal control or wildlife conservation agency for assistance with “bat-proofing“ your home or take the following steps:

  1. Examine your home for holes that might allow bats entry. Caulk or fill any external openings larger than a dime.
  2. Use window screens, chimney caps, and draft guards beneath doors. Ensure that all doors to the outside and attics close tightly.
  3. Most bats leave to migrate in the fall or winter, so these are the best times to bat-proof your home.
  4. Always be mindful of local rules or laws about removing bats. Some bats are endangered and may require special care if found in your home.


  • The best way to protect yourself from bats is to avoid them.
  • Get medical attention as soon as possible if you experience direct contact with a bat.
  • Capture the bat if possible and contact public health regarding testing.

More information on bats and rabies can be found by contacting your local or state health department.

Adult Health Topics