Bats and rabies
A small number of Daubenton’s bats in the UK have been found to carry European Bat Lyssavirus (EBLV), a rabies virus. EBLV is not the classical rabies which is usually associated with feral dogs; classical rabies has never been recorded in a native European bat species. There are two known strains of EBLV: EBLV1 and EBLV2.
The Animal & Plant Health Agency (APHA) has tested over 15,000 UK bats since 1986 for EBLV through an ongoing surveillance programme. These bats have been sent in by members of the public and bat workers. There is currently an average of one or two cases per year of EBLV2 from Daubenton’s bats; the bats and rabies page of the Bat Conservation Trust (BCT) website contains up-to-date details of the number of cases of EBLV in the UK.
Bird ringers may accidentally catch bats in mist nets when ringing at dusk or dawn. Care should be taken to avoid this if possible; however, if a bat is caught, it must be extracted and released. Extraction techniques are, in principle, the same as for birds. A bat which is badly tangled and impossible to extract using normal techniques, may have to be cut free. If this is the case, care should be taken to ensure that no strands of netting remain on the bat, which should then be released. If necessary, bats can be held for a short time prior to release in ordinary bird bags.
In order to minimise the risk of being bitten or scratched, thick gloves should always be worn when handling bats. If you are bitten or scratched by a bat, the Bat Conservation Trust advises that you should take the following steps:
- Wash the wound immediately with soap and water for at least five minutes. Additional cleansing of the wound site with an alcohol base or other disinfectant is also recommended.
- Seek immediate medical advice from your GP (even if you have up to date rabies vaccinations).
- If the bat has been seen flying very recently and it is a warm evening then the bat can be released.
- If the bat is injured or has not been seen flying very recently then contain the bat so that further advice can be sought. Bats can squeeze through very small spaces, so keep it in a well-sealed container with adequate ventilation holes (pencil width), a piece of cloth to hide in, and a shallow container (ideally a bottle lid) with a few drops of water for the bat to drink from. Make sure you avoid getting bitten again by wearing suitable gloves or using a cloth to handle the bat.
- Contact the National Bat Helpline on 0345 1300 228 to arrange care for the bat. If the Helpline is unavailable, take the bat to a local vet for assistance.
- In all cases of being bitten or scratched, contact the National Bat Helpline who can report the incident to the relevant Animal Health Authority.
Government advice on bats and rabies states that anyone who regularly handles bats should obtain a vaccination against rabies. Volunteers who work with bats in the UK are entitled to this vaccination free of charge through their GP; those working with bats abroad will need to obtain the vaccination from a private travel clinic. Bird ringers may also be entitled to receive this vaccination if they regularly come into contact with bats. More information, as well as documents to download before visiting your GP, is available on the bats and rabies page of the BCT website.
Bats are specially protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended), the Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order 1985, The Wildlife Act 1990 (Isle of Man), and in the Republic of Ireland by the Wildlife Act, 1976. Specific licenses issued by the Country Agencies are required if nets or other catching equipment are deliberately set to catch bats in free flight. Any bats caught unintentionally in mist-nets or by other means as part of normal ringing activities must be extracted and released. Similarly, the intentional disturbance of known bat roosts also requires a licence, whether or not the disturbance is for the purpose of studying bats. Ringers should not carry out ringing studies which would knowingly result in the disturbance of roosting bats.
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