Avoid risk of rabies from bats

Bats play key roles in ecosystems around the globe. They also can carry diseases, including rabies. The best way to protect yourself and bats is to stay away from them and get medical care if you come in contact with them.

Key Facts

  • Bats are one of the most commonly reported rabid animal in the United States.
  • Bats are the leading cause of rabies deaths in people in the United States.
  • If you find a bat in your home, try to capture it for testing. By testing the bat for rabies, you can find out if you need to be vaccinated.
  • Bat bites can be very small. If you’ve been in contact with a bat – even if you aren’t sure you’ve been bitten or scratched – talk to a healthcare or public health professional about your risk and whether or not you need to be vaccinated.

Rabies and Bats

Bat flying in the air

Bats are the leading cause of rabies deaths in people in the United States. Rabid bats have been found in all 49 continental states. Only Hawaii is rabies-free. The good news is that most bats don’t have rabies. But you can’t tell if a bat has rabies just by looking at it. Rabies can only be confirmed in a laboratory.

Any bat that is active during the day or is found in a place where bats are not usually seen – like in your home or on your lawn – might be rabid. A bat that is unable to fly and is easily approached could be sick.

What should I do if I encounter a bat?

If you come into contact with a bat, you might need medical care. What you should do around bats depends on where you encounter them and what type of contact you have. Infants, young children, and people with reduced mental function due to medication, alcohol, illness, or age are at higher risk since they may not know or be able to tell others if they were bitten or scratched.

  • If you know you’ve been bitten or scratched by a bat — or if infectious material (such as saliva or brain material) from a bat gets into your eyes, nose, mouth, or a wound — wash the wound thoroughly with soap and water and seek medical attention immediately. Whenever possible, the bat should be captured and sent to a laboratory for rabies testing.
  • If you are outdoors:
    • Seeing bats outside is common and normal, especially at dusk and through the night. Avoid intentional contact with bats outside. Use screens, tents, or mosquito netting when sleeping outside.
    • If you are outside and have direct contact with a bat, you should talk to a healthcare or public health professional to decide if you need to be vaccinated to prevent rabies. If you’re not sure if contact occurred but find a bat on or near you (for example, if you wake up with a bat near or on you), then you may need vaccination.
  • If you are in your home: If you find a bat in your house, talk to a healthcare or public health professional and have the bat captured for possible rabies testing. Call animal control, wildlife conservation, or a public health agency for assistance. If professional assistance is not available, safely capture the bat in case testing is needed. Testing the bat may help you and your doctor decide if you need rabies vaccination.

Capture a bat for testing

  1. Find a container like a box or a can large enough for the bat to fit in, and a piece of cardboard large enough 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.

Keep bats out of your house

You can contact an animal-control or wildlife conservation agency for assistance with “bat-proofingexternal icon” your home, or you can take steps to bat-proof on your own.

  • Examine your home for holes that might allow bats entry. Caulk any openings larger than a dime. Use window screens, chimney caps, and draft-guards beneath doors to attics. Fill electrical and plumbing holes with stainless steel wool, caulk, or other material rated for pest exclusion. Ensure that all doors to the outside close tightly.
  • If you already have bats in your home, observe where they exit at dusk. Make note of how many there are. Prevent them from coming back by loosely hanging clear plastic sheeting or bird netting over the areas where they exit. This lets any remaining bats crawl out and leave but prevents them from re-entering. When all the bats are gone, the openings can be permanently sealed.
    • Bat sightings may increase early in the exclusion process, as bats try to find other entrances and exits into your home. Make sure all residents and visitors are aware of the bat-proofing efforts and report any contact between bats and people or pets to your local health department.
  • Most bats leave in the fall or winter to migrate, so these are the best times to bat-proof your home. In most of the U.S., avoid bat-proofing from May through August, because you could trap young bats inside and cause them to die or to make their way into your living areas.
  • Always be mindful of local rules or laws about removing bats . Some bats are endangered and may require special care if they are found in your home.
Protect People, Protect Bats, Avoid Rabies
Protect People, Protect Bats, Avoid Rabies

This short film explains the connection between human health, bat health, and the environment and how best to avoid a rabies exposure. Learn how to live safely with bats while increasing your awareness of rabies prevention.

Watch YouTube Video