Bats and Rabies
Some bats in Northern Europe are known to carry a rabies-related virus called European Bat Lyssavirus (EBLV). There are two strains called EBLV1 and EBLV2.
To date, 4 bats have been found in the UK with EBLV2. All were Daubenton's bats. In 2005 a serotine bat was found with EBLV1. The government's Veterinary Laboratories Agency has tested 4,000 UK bats since 1986 and found no other cases of infection.
DEFRA and Scottish Natural Heritage continue to carry out research into EBLV prevalence in the UK, but we should assume that EBLV is endemic at a low level throughout the UK bat population.
EBLV is transmitted from bats through a bite, scratch or contact with mucous membranes (eyes, nose, mouth). There is no risk if people do not handle bats.
Since 1977 there have been 4 deaths in Europe from EBLV. The symptoms are similar to classical rabies. Symptoms appear usually 2-8 weeks after infection, but can be earlier or take up to 2 years. Early symptoms include fever, headache, numbness, tingling around the entry point. This may develop into muscle spasms, hallucinations, thirst, hydrophobia, manic or anti-social behaviour, paralysis and coma. In all cases, once symptoms appear painful death follows.
The usual vaccines for rabies are also effective against EBLV - nobody who has been given post-exposure treatment for rabies has gone on to develop the disease.
All bat-workers are entitled to free pre-exposure vaccinations from their GP (all licensed bat-workers in the North Bucks Bat Group have received these vaccinations).
In the event that you are bitten by a bat, wash the wound immediately with soap and water. Further cleaning with an alcohol base or disinfectant is also recommended. Seek immediate medical attention. Rabies vaccine and immunoglobulin will need to be administered. If the bite was unprovoked, the incident should be reported immediately and, if possible, the bat should be retained for analysis. Do not kill the bat as this could prevent an accurate analysis from being completed.
If for any reason you need to handle bats (for example to remove them from a room in your house), it is recommended that you wear gloves and place a box over the bat to contain it.
DEFRA's FAQ on bats
The Bat Conservation Trust's Learn about Bats and Rabies