Rabies in bats: how to spot it and report it

Signs that may suggest rabies in bats, what to do if you spot them and measures to prevent exposing yourself to the disease.

It is possible, although rare, for a bat infected with rabies to pass the disease on to other mammals, including humans.

The most recent case of rabies in a bat in Great Britain was in October 2019.

Rabies in bats is a notifiable animal disease. If you suspect it you must report it immediately by calling the Defra Rural Services Helpline on 03000 200 301. In Wales, contact 0300 303 8268. In Scotland, contact your local Field Services Office. Failure to do so is an offence.

Signs that a bat may have rabies

Infected bats may not show any signs of rabies. Infection can only be confirmed in a laboratory.

But clinical signs in bats may include:

  • behaviour changes: infected animals are prone to more aggression
  • disorientation and difficulty flying (infected bats may be injured as a result)
  • eyes taking on a staring expression

How rabies is spread

Rabies is present in the saliva of infected bats and is 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.

Risk to humans from infected bats

Humans can catch rabies from a bat, although this is very unusual as the disease is very rare among bats in Great Britain.

In humans symptoms of the disease include:

  • anxiety, headaches and fever in early stages
  • spasms of the swallowing muscles making it difficult or impossible to drink
  • breathing difficulties

There are vaccinations against rabies, and the disease can normally be prevented if you are treated soon after exposure. But once signs of rabies appear, there is no treatment. Past human cases have been fatal.

Read the NHS guide to rabies for more information about the disease in humans. Public Health England has produced a guidance leaflet on bat contact and rabies risk.

How to avoid catching rabies from a bat

You should be vaccinated against rabies if you regularly handle bats.

If you have not been vaccinated against the disease:

  • assume that all bats are possible carriers of rabies
  • avoid touching bats, living or dead, whenever possible
  • if you must touch a bat, follow the Bat Conservation Trust guidance and wear thick gloves to avoid being bitten or scratched

If you are bitten or scratched by a bat

If you have been bitten or scratched by a bat, or exposed to bat saliva or nervous tissue in any other way, you must:

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

If you suspect rabies in a bat

If you suspect rabies in a bat or you see abnormal behavior in a bat contact APHA for help.

APHA vets will investigate and may submit the bat for testing to see whether the signs were caused by rabies.

If you find a dead bat

If you find a dead bat:

If your pet finds a bat

It is possible, although very rare, for infected bats to pass rabies to other animals including pets.

If your pet catches a bat, keep your pet under observation.

If your pet falls sick or starts behaving unusually, you must contact your vet immediately. Your vet will tell APHA if he or she suspects your pet has rabies.

Monitoring rabies in bats in Great Britain

APHA tests dead bats submitted by the public to monitor how widespread the disease is in Great Britain.

Only 27 infected bats have been found in more than 15,000 tests since 1986, so the risk of catching rabies from a bat is very low.

Site Location Dates
1 Newhaven, Sussex 1996
2 Carnforth, Lancashire 2002
3 Blackburn, Lancashire 2003
4 Staines, Surrey 2004
5 Abingdon, Oxford 2006
6 Craven Arms, Shropshire (3 cases) 2007, 2008 and 2014
7 Teddington, Surrey 2008
8 Linlithgow, West Lothian, Scotland 2009
9 Newtown, Powys, WALES 2015
10 Skipton, Yorkshire 2016
11 Haydon Bridge, Northumberland 2016
12 Chesterfield, Derbyshire 2017
13 Peterborough, Cambridgeshire 2018
14** Robertsbridge, East Sussex (5 cases) 2018
15 Rothbury, Northumberland 2018
16 Poole, Dorset 2018
17 East Lothian, Scotland 2018
18 Corfe Castle, Dorset 2018
19 Wimbourne, Dorset 2019
20 Poole, Dorset 2019
21 Poole, Dorset 2019
22 Peterborough, Cambridgeshire 2019

** Once a positive case is confirmed at a site, we will not publicise further incidents there during the given year’s ‘bat season’ - May to September.

Published 26 August 2014
Last updated 28 October 2019 + show all updates
  1. Updated the information on the number of cases of rabies in bats.
  2. Updated the information on the number of cases of rabies in bats.
  3. Updated as a bat tested positive for rabies in Poole, Dorset in August 2019.
  4. Updated to include the latest monitoring details for positive cases.
  5. Added link to guidance leaflet from Public Health England
  6. Contact details for reporting a notifiable disease updated.
  7. Added details of where and when rabies has been found in bats in Great Britain.
  8. Updated the information on the number of cases of rabies in bats.
  9. Updated the information on the number of case of rabies in a bat.
  10. Updated the contact details on who to contact if you find a dead bat.
  11. Updated the number of cases of rabies in bats.
  12. Updated information on when the most recent case of rabies in a bat in Great Britain was.
  13. Updated the information on the number of case of rabies in a bat.
  14. Minor change to reflect that the most recent case of rabies in a bat in Great Britain was in July 2015.
  15. Updated Bat Conservation Trust helpline number
  16. AHVLA documents have been re-assigned to the new Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA).
  17. First published.