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Rabies in bats: what are the risks?

10 Jul 2024 | Technical News

Although unlikely, it is possible for a bat infected with rabies to pass the disease onto other mammals including humans. Landscape operations may require operatives to work in areas habited by bats (e.g. manmade structures such as bridges or trees) which warrant caution and awareness amongst managers and operatives. 

Cases of rabies in Great Britain are rare, but occur each year, generally in the southwest of England. During 2023 there were 15 confirmed cases of rabies, primarily in Dorset and Somerset.     

Rabies is present in the saliva of infected bats and usually spread by the bite of an infected bat. The disease can also be spread if the saliva of an infected animal gets into open wounds or mucous membranes such as the nostrils, mouth and lips, eyelids and ears.

Symptoms of the disease in humans include:

  • anxiety, headaches and fever in early stages
  • spasms of the swallowing muscles making it difficult or impossible to drink
  • breathing difficulties
  • numbness or tingling where bitten or scratched
  • inability to move

Note: Symptoms of rabies usually take 3 – 12 weeks to appear, but may appear after a few days or even several months or years.

There are vaccinations against rabies, and the disease can normally be prevented if treated soon after exposure.

To avoid all risk:

  • assume all bats are possible carriers of rabies
  • avoid touching bats, living or dead, whenever possible

Operatives who are bitten or scratched by a bat must:

  • wash the wound or contact area with soap and water
  • disinfect the wound
  • contact a doctor immediately who will decide whether further treatment is necessary

Further reading

Defra guidance: Rabies in bats: how to spot it and report it

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