Rabies & Bat Encounters


What is Rabies?


Rabies is a viral disease that attacks the central nervous system and once symptoms begin it is always fatal. The virus is found in the saliva of an infected animal and transmitted through a bite or scratch, or if infected saliva gets into an open cut or wound.

If you suspect someone has been exposed to rabies, either by being bitten or by handling a wild animal that is behaving abnormally, wash the area with copious amounts of soap and water for 10 minutes. Contact your physician or local hospital and the State Department of Public Health at 617-983-6800 as soon as possible for guidance on vaccination (post-exposure prophylaxis) and treatment..  

All cats and dogs should be vaccinated yearly against rabies. Keeping cats indoors helps ensure they will not interact with rabid wildlife, including bats.



Rabies Treatment

Rabies vaccine (post-exposure prophylaxis) should be given to a person immediately after exposure to the rabies virus to prevent them from getting rabies. The treatment no longer requires a series of shots in the abdomen and is now just 6 shots given over a four to six week period.



Rabies Transmission


Bats are an animal species that can become infected with rabies. Rabies can be transmitted to humans and family pets from the bites of or other types of exposures to infected animals.  Bats are natural carriers of rabies. These animals normally roost in protected outdoor areas or in attics of buildings. During the extreme heat of the summer, bats search out cooler places, including the living space of residences to roost and raise their young. This migration of bats into the living areas of homes increases the risk of exposure to bats by humans and pets (dogs and cats). 

How can I keep bats out of my home?

Some bats live in buildings where it is unlikely they will ever have contact with people. However, bats should always be prevented from entering rooms of your home where they may come in close contact with people. For assistance with "bat-proofing" your home, contact a wildlife conservation agency or pest control agency. If you choose to "bat-proof" your home yourself, follow these suggestions:

  • Examine your home for holes that might allow bats entry to the home.
  • Use window screens, chimney caps, and draft guards beneath doors to attics.
  • Fill electrical and plumbing holes with stainless steel wool or caulking.
  • Ensure that all doors to the outside close tightly.
  • Observe where the bats exit at dusk and keep them from re-entering by loosely hanging clear plastic sheeting or bird netting over these areas (bats can leave, but cannot re-enter).
  • After the bats have stopped coming back, the openings can be permanently sealed.
  • Avoid permanently sealing openings from May through August because many young bats are unable to fly and may die trapped inside or make their way into living quarters. If you have a problem during these months, find a problem animal control agent, licensed by the state of Massachusetts, to remove wildlife by calling (508) 389-6300 or click here.
  • Most bats leave to hibernate in fall or winter, so this is the best time to "bat-proof."

What do I do if I find a bat in my home?

If you find a bat in your home, you should capture it as soon as possible. It's very important to keep the bat contained so it can be tested for rabies. It may be possible to release the bat back outside if there is no risk that the bat bit or scratched a person or pet (learn more below). To capture a bat, follow these steps:

  1. Close all windows and doors, turn on the lights, and wait for the bat to land.
  2. Wearing heavy gloves, cover the bat with a pail, coffee can or similar container.
  3. Slide cardboard under the container to trap the bat inside.
  4. Tape the cardboard to the container.

Click here for a fact sheet on catching a bat from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

You can also find a state licensed Problem Animal Control (PAC) Agent to assist in removing problem animals here.

How do I know if a bat should be sent for rabies testing?
A bat should be captured and sent for testing if: 

  • Any person or animal came into direct contact with the bat through bites or scratches.
  • The bat was found in a room with a sleeping person. Bats have small sharp teeth, which may not leave a visible bite mark. A bite from a bat during the night may not awaken a sleeping person.
  • The bat was found with an unattended child, a mentally disabled person, or a person who was not fully aware of his or her surroundings (intoxicated, heavily medicated, etc.).
  • The bat had contact with a household pet.

If direct contact or possible contact occurred, capture the bat without touching it. Immediately wash the area of a bite or scratch thoroughly with soap and water. Seek medical attention for people and veterinary care for pets.

If a bat is available for testing and is found to be negative, treatment to prevent rabies is not necessary. However, any bat that cannot be tested must be considered to be positive for rabies. 

If the bat needs to be submitted for rabies testing, call the Hinton State Laboratory Institute (617-983-6385) for further instruction. If you are certain that there was no possibility of contact between the bat and any human or pet, the bat can be released or allowed to leave on its own.

Contact

Massachusetts Department of Public Health 

Division of Epidemiology and Immunization 

617-983-6800

Rabies Testing is done by Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) at the DPH office in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts (617-983-6800 or 617-983-6550)