CDC Warns of Rabies Deaths from Bats in Buildings
Three people died of rabies contracted from bats in recent months
When removing animals from your facilities, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reminds you to take precautions with those that can spread rabies, especially bats. Three people in the U.S., including a child, died from rabies between late September and early November 2021 after direct contact with bats in and around buildings.
The three cases bring the total number of rabies cases caused by bat bites to five in 2021, compared to no reported rabies cases in people in 2019 and 2020.
The three people who died of rabies in the fall—one each in Idaho, Illinois, and Texas—had direct contact with bats in or around their homes. One case was attributed to a bat roost in the victim’s home and another to the victim picking up a bat with bare hands. Two of the victims released the bat rather than capturing it for rabies testing. None of the three victims received post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) shots that can prevent rabies from developing if received before symptoms start.
“We have come a long way in the United States towards reducing the number of people who become infected each year with rabies, but this recent spate of cases is a sobering reminder that contact with bats poses a real health risk,” said Ryan Wallace, a veterinarian and rabies expert in CDC’s Division of High-Consequence Pathogens and Pathology.
Exposure to rabid bats is the leading cause of rabies in humans in the U.S., accounting for 70% of people who become infected. Bat bites do not always cause a visible mark yet can still spread rabies virus through infected saliva. Infected people may not show any symptoms of rabies for three weeks to three months. The PEP shot is effective in preventing rabies until symptoms develop. Once symptoms begin, rabies is nearly always fatal.
The CDC is urging building managers and homeowners to take the following precautions to prevent or lessen the risk of rabies infection:
- Avoid direct contact with bats.
- If you do encounter a bat or if someone in your building possibly had contact with a bat, call your state or local health department or animal control department to help trap the bat for testing.
- Contact your doctor or a local public health official to assess whether a PEP shot is needed.
To safely trap a bat yourself:
- 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.
- 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.
- Tape the cardboard to the container to secure the bat inside.
- Contact your local health department to have the bat tested for rabies.
To keep bats from roosting in your facility:
- Examine the building for holes that might allow bats entry. Caulk any openings larger than a dime.
- Use window screens, chimney caps, and draft-guards beneath attic doors to seal off access.
- 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 facility:
- Observe where the bats exit at dusk. Make note of how many there are.
- Prevent the bats 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 but prevents them from re-entering.
- When all the bats are gone, permanently seal the openings.
- Most bats leave in the fall or winter to migrate, so these are the best times to bat-proof your facility.
- 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 building.