The incidence of rabies in the wild bat population is relatively low, and the spread of rabies within individual colonies appears to be rare. However, of the sick, dead, or suspect bats submitted for testing in Pennsylvania, roughly 5 percent test positive for rabies. It is important to take precautions when handling grounded bats.
If you are trying to get bats out of your home or outbuilding, mid summer and early fall is the time of year to do so. Unfortunately, because this is the best time of year, bat colonies are on the move. Colonies can combine and make a small colony significantly larger and you could become their next accidental landlord.
Bats of all sizes will bite in self-defense, but they almost never attack people. If you must handle a bat, take the following precautions to minimize the chance of being bitten.
- Wear leather gloves and scoop the grounded bat into a container to prevent the bat from biting you.
- If you are bitten by a bat, immediately wash the bite with hot, soapy water and call a physician. If there is any possibility that you have been infected, the physician will recommend rabies shots. Today, most people receive the rabies vaccine in a series of five relatively painless shots in the arm administered over a one-month period.
- If the bat is captured, it should be killed without destroying the head, placed in a jar or plastic bag, and then refrigerated not frozen. For advice on submitting specimens for testing, call the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Animal Industry Laboratory at 717-787-8808.