Bats and Rabies Prevention
In Michigan, bats are most active in the summer and begin looking for places to hibernate for the winter in early fall. Autumn is when it is most likely to find a bat in your home, though it could happen year-round.
Bats are the animals most often found with rabies in Michigan. Because of this, it is extremely important to take proper precautions if you find a bat in your home to avoid contracting this fatal disease.
What is rabies and how is it transmitted?
Rabies is an acute, fatal disease that is spread to humans by exposure to animals infected with rabies. The rabies virus is present in the saliva of an infected animal and enters the body through either a break in the skin caused by a bite from a rabid animal or by contamination via scratches, abrasions or mucous membranes with the saliva of an infected animal.
Wild animals most likely to carry or be infected with rabies in Michigan are bats, skunks, foxes, raccoons and woodchucks. It can be challenging to tell if an animal is rabid just by appearance. Infected animals may stagger, appear restless, aggressive, change their tone of bark or growl, or appear to be choking. They may also behave abnormally by being more aggressive or friendly or being active during unusual times.
Rabies symptom onset in humans is generally 4-56 weeks after coming in contact with an infected animal but can range from five days to more than one year. The virus spreads in the body and enters the brain, where it causes severe disease that leads to death. Symptoms may include insomnia, anxiety, confusion, hallucinations, agitation, trouble swallowing and partial paralysis. Death usually occurs within days of the onset of these symptoms. In 2021, there were five rabies deaths in the U.S.
How do you know if you’ve been exposed to rabies?
Exposure is defined as either a bite or any penetration of the skin via the teeth or saliva of an infected animal coming in contact with abrasions, open wounds or mucous membranes.
It’s important to know that bat bites can be so small you may not know if you have been bitten. If you wake up and find a bat in your room or find a bat in a room with a sleeping person, unattended child, a person who is cognitively impaired or someone who is intoxicated, you need to seek a medical evaluation immediately.
What should you do if you are bitten by a bat or are unsure if you or another person was bitten by a bat?
Do not let the bat go. You should capture the bat alive for testing to determine if it is positive for rabies and then seek medical attention. If the bat is not caught and tested, the exposed person will need to get the rabies vaccine series. This series consists of a four-injection series administered over 14 days and is very costly, even with insurance. Instructions for how to safely capture a bat for testing can be found below.
If you are bitten, wash the affected area thoroughly with soap and water and seek a medical evaluation immediately with your own doctor or at the emergency room. The medical professional will clean and evaluate the exposed area, assess the need for rabies vaccine, a tetanus-diphtheria booster or antibiotic treatment.
How to safely capture a bat
To safely capture a bat, you will need:
- Thick gloves, preferably made of leather
- A small plastic container or coffee can
- A piece of cardboard or thin plastic cutting board
To capture the animal:
- Put on gloves before attempting to capture the bat.
- Wait for the bat to come to a rest.
- Place a small container over the top of the bat and slide the cardboard under the container, trapping the bat inside.
- Once the bat is in the container, securely tape the container shut so the bat cannot escape.
- Place a few very small holes, less than a quarter inch in size, in the container to keep the bat alive.
- Contact Berrien County Animal Control at 269.927.5648 Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m.- 4 p.m. to receive instructions on next steps.
- After hours, call Berrien County Dispatch’s non-emergency line at 269.983.3060.
The bat should be captured alive to ensure proper testing can be completed. If the bat dies, place it in a container and keep it in the fridge (do not place in the freezer, as freezing the bat may damage the brain and make it ineligible for testing) until you receive next steps from animal control.
Watch this helpful video to see an example of how to safely capture a bat.
The bat will be sent to Michigan Department of Health and Human Services for testing; the results may take up to five days.
Michigan DNR Nuisance Animal Control Directory
If you need assistance capturing a bat or other creature, contact one of the services in your area listed here.
How can I prevent rabies?
You can prevent your risk of exposure to rabies by avoiding contact with wild animals. Never approach, touch or feed wild animals. If you store food outside, keep it in a sturdy container with a tight-fitting lid.
You can also make your home less accessible to wild animals by installing a chimney cap and sealing openings around your home such as attics, crawl spaces or areas under your porch or deck.
Beyond Rabies: The Benefits of Bats
Of course, bats aren’t all bad – they play an important role in the ecosystem, controlling insect populations, spreading fruit seeds, reforesting green spaces and more. It is important to take proper precautions when interacting with a bat in the situations described above where there was a potential bite, but when encountering bats in other scenarios, leave the animal be and do not interact with or harm it.