(Baptist Health) – No one expects to see a bat in their house. But if you do, it’s important to remain calm and act quickly. That’s because bats can spread rabies. In fact, bats are the leading cause of rabies deaths in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The good news is that rabies is preventable. Knowing how to handle a bat encounter can help.
Catch that bat
If there’s a bat in your home, your first instinct might be to quickly shoo it out through an open window or door—or to kill it. But it’s important to resist the urge.
Some bats may be endangered. What’s more, the only way to know if a bat is infected with rabies is to have it tested in a laboratory. Even though it might seem scary, trapping the bat is important—even if you don’t think you were bitten. A bat’s bite can be too small to leave a mark, and you may even sleep right through it.
So how do you trap a bat? Start by making sure you have the right equipment. Find a box or other container and a flat piece of cardboard to use as a cover. Next, put on a pair of leather work gloves.
Wait for the bat to land. Move slowly, and put the container over the bat, trapping it. Then slide your cardboard under the container to form a lid. Once you’ve got the bat in the box, tape it shut.
Finally, call your local health department. They can get the bat tested for rabies.
Know the risk of rabies
Rabies is rare in the United States. According to CDC, five people in the U.S. had rabies in 2021—and none had the disease in 2019 or 2020. If you’re exposed—or think you might be—treatment known as post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) can prevent the disease.
It’s important to start PEP as soon as possible. Rabies symptoms typically take a while to develop, but once they begin, the disease is almost always fatal.
So anytime you have contact with a bat, let your healthcare provider or your local health department know right away—whether or not you caught the culprit. They can help you decide if you need PEP.
What about other animals? Get help right away if you encounter an animal that’s acting strangely. And learn how to respond to other types of animal bites.