“What about rabies?” indeed! Rabies is a deadly virus – if you get rabies, you have a death sentence.
Bats get a bad rap about rabies. Because of that people often get quite worried about bats, that being around bats makes them likely to get rabies. So is it true?
Bats are mammals and like all mammals, they can get rabies. Raccoons and skunks are as likely to have rabies as bats. And like all mammals, when bats get rabies, they die. But bats are not carriers flying around with rabies in them as if they weren’t sick and infecting other mammals.
Less than 1 % of bats have rabies. You can realize how low this really is because rabies has virtually disappeared as a disease in the U.S. because of dog and cat vaccinations (especially dogs).
In the world, the most common source of rabies outside of the U.S. is the dog. In most third world countries, especially, dogs are common, but are not regularly vaccinated. Over 99% of rabies deaths worldwide are due to dog bites.
A bat with rabies mainly displays the “dumb” rabies symptoms, showing up as a docile, weak, sick animal (as compared to the aggressive form which dogs get, such as Old Yeller). Unfortunately, that behavior makes many people feel sorry for them and want to help them. That’s where the real danger of rabies lurks – like any wild animal, bats will bite when frightened.
This is why health departments often cite statistics of much higher incidence of rabies in bats than what is actually true. Healthy bats are rarely brought into a public health department, so a sick one is far more likely to have rabies. That makes the percentage of bats seen by public health officials have a much higher percentage of rabies. Never handle a sick bat even though you can get close to it. For that matter, never handle any wild mammal that you can get close to, even if it doesn’t seem sick, because that is not normal wild animal behavior.
You have to be bit by a mammal to contract rabies. That saliva to blood connection is very important. You cannot get rabies by simply being close to a bat (or any other mammal).
If you are ever bit by a wild mammal (only mammals get rabies) or overly aggressive domestic mammals (especially in other countries), you need to get rabies shots immediately. They are not the painful affair of the past, but are a series of simple shots in the arm. It is critical to pay attention to this because if you get rabies, there is no cure. You will die.