Bats, rabies and how Congress reacts

Bats are no doubt fascinating animals. They also carry rabies. And I'll be honest with you. Rabies scares the crap out of me. Most people know that rabies is caused by a virus that is spread through the saliva of an infected animal. Because the virus attacks the nervous system, rabid animals often act aggressively and may bite, thus transmitting the disease. Fortunately vaccination against rabies is available and since the disease has a longish incubation period, there is usually ample time after being bitten by a known or suspected rabid animal to get a series of shots that will protect you (see a recent post here on a possible one-shot rabies vaccine). Thanks to veterinary vaccination, the US is free of rabid dogs, but there are rabid cats, cows and many rabid wildlife, primarily raccoons, foxes, skunks and bats. Bats are mammals but they fly. They can get into your house or tent and can bite you without your realizing it, while you sleep. Most of the rare but tragic human rabies cases in the US in recent years have been from bat bites.

CDC says most bats don't have rabies, and I believe them. Bats are an important part of a very important part of the ecology of many regions. They are important. I'm not afraid of bats that don't have rabies, so I don't have to be afraid of most bats. But I am afraid of bats that do have rabies and unfortunately they don't carry signs that tell me they are rabies free. So which bats are the riskest?

Rabies can be confirmed only in a laboratory. However, any bat that is active by day, is found in a place where bats are not usually seen (for example, in a room in your home or on the lawn), or is unable to fly, is far more likely than others to be rabid. Such bats are often the most easily approached. Therefore, it is best never to handle any bat. (CDC)

Whenever you are bitten by an animal you should do your best to either capture it or know where it can be observed (e.g., a pet) for at least a few days. If you even might have been exposed to a rabid bat you should try to capture it so lab studies can test it for rabies. But how do you capture a bat? CDC's bat website has instructions and ways to bat proof a house.

But you don't always know when you've been bitten. Bats have very tiny teeth and their bite marks aren't always visible. The CDC site has this extremely scary case history:

In February 1995, the aunt of a 4-year-old girl was awakened by the sounds of a bat in the room where the child was sleeping. The child did not wake up until the bat was captured, killed, and discarded. The girl reported no bite, and no evidence of a bite wound was found when she was examined. One month later the child became sick and died of rabies. The dead bat was recovered from the yard and tested--it had rabies.

There is a lesson here, which CDC spells out:

  • This child's infection with rabies was most likely the result of a bat bite. Children sleep heavily and may not awaken from the presence of a small bat. A bat bite can be superficial and not easily noticed.
  • The bat was behaving abnormally. Instead of hiding, the bat was making unusual noises and was having difficulty flying. This strange behavior should have led to a strong suspicion of rabies.
  • If the bat had been submitted for rabies testing, a positive test would have led to life-saving anti-rabies treatment.

You can find out a great deal more about rabies at the CDC rabies site.

What about Congress? Isn't there something Congress can do about rabid bats?


More like this

As a Doctor in Hyderadad in India last week,
There are so much virus in the House,
That is dangerous.

See the all these Bats dying in the last few years.
She delivered probably the same message that the Bees delivered which stated, we can cope with a couple of virus and bacterias but we can not cope with not many,

Do something.

Intense Debate at Science Café
... then I said

Most of our problems for us in the Flublogia is the fact that scientists cannot talked about our corroborated datas on alternatives pragmatic, preventive and unirversally accessible alternatives to all at a very very low price.

This is what in the Future we might call the Scientific conflict of interests with Big Pharma that has not allowed duly corroborated datas to be back up by them because of Protocols defines and Mega-Financed by Big Pharma.

As Time goes by,
I am going Mad as Hell against the majority of Scientists Hiding behind Big Pharma Protocols.

It do not take a Phd to understand that if dear love eating the Elderberry tree in time of diseases conditions that it should contains polyphenols that prevent viral replication.

It do not take a Master to understand that if the first task of Bees was to collect not Pollen, but Propolis, it certainly had sumpin to do with the Health of the Bees House.

Propolis is probably the best vegetable antibiotics of the World. Ask the Egyptians, they knew that more than 5 000 yrs ago.

Just has the Castor Oil, Palma Christi, when heated does stimiulated the lymphatic system with all its positive effects.

Some Scientist raise up as in the case of lobbying against adding adjuvants on H1N1 vaccine when considering the everlasting effect of insertion of squalene in more quantity in the H1N1 vaccine than when it was done and is duly corroborated in the Gulf War Syndrome in Veterans.

May you Rise up Scientists for a Human Dignified Medical Propositions, otherwise,
Science will indeed become crystallised as a corrupted Network.

Achak Snowy Owl

Mate, anyone can become a scientist if they want to, as long as they follow good scientific procedure. Anyone can start a business that sells any cures they like, as long as they can show that the cures work.

Go on then. DO. Come back with evidence. With such awesome treatments I expect you to be fabulously wealthy very soon. It's a win win.

To the dear sir/madam at #1: Are you related to the Time Cube guy? I find some interesting similarities in your writing style.

I recently discovered that bats have taken up residence very near my house, I've been hearing them and seeing a few every evening when they start getting active. Bats are really cool animals (and anything that eats biting insects I appreciate) but definitely keeping an eye out for any acting strangely. Rabies scares the crap out of me too and I know it's in the area, a feral kitten that died after biting several people tested positive in the town about 15 miles from me last week.

Revere - waiting with bated breath to hear your comments about the stories in Cda about the seasonal flu vax causing increased chance of catching novel H1N1.....

hornblower: And I'm waiting to see the methods and the paper. "Preliminary" results without any meaningful description don't cut it for me when the result is counterintuitive. Since I earn my living doing these kind of studies (I'm an epidemiologist) I know the many things that can go wrong to produce an anomalous result. So I'll just wait to see. Not enough info to make an informed comment.

Caution around downed bats is always a good idea. However, right now the bat population is being decimated by a new disease that is causing them to wake in the middle of hibernation and search for food. This disease is causing mortality rates of near 100% for some hibernation caves.


Regarding feverless swine flu: What if a significant portion of the people who volunteered for the swine flu vaccine tests had previously been infected with swine flu, but, because they experienced the feverless version, were unaware that they had already been conferred some immunity. Because the high incidence of a feverless swine flu seems to have taken everyone by surprise, would this phenomenon have been factored into the vaccine results? What if 25% of those who were given the experimental swine flu vaccine were unknowingly already immune? Is that possible?

melbren: Usually vaccine trials do some serology first to see if the person already has antibodies. It's not clear that swine flu is particularly unusual. Seasonal flu is often also feverless. The presence of immunity, if undetected, would make the vaccine look less efficacious, however, which is why they check it.

It's making me crazy in Ontario: the public health department has suspended the seasonal shot unless you're over 65, will give the H1N1 when it comes out in Nov, and then will do the seasonal flu shot in Dec. The reasoning is meant to be that the H1N1 is likely to be the dominant strain based on current numbers.

They have no more information than we do, and I think they are overreacting. Certainly compared with data from other countries, this unpublished study is an outlier. Plus, the study speaks to last year's vaccination and not this year's. Possible confounders: persons at risk having an increased liklihood of vaccination; different strains present in the previous flu shot to thins year's (I think I heard something about a similar result in the past but cannot find the reference at the moment, and it could well be strain-dependent); the 1 in 20 effect (if all the other studies say one thing and this one says something different, chance could well be a factor). Or it could be a poor study, though the researchers are known to produce great data.

Anyhow, I would take my chances and get the seasonal jab given the choice. If I get H3N2 or Brisbane, the Ontario government is gonna have some 'splainin' to do.

Poes law: You cannot tell the difference between parody and crazy people. :)

Absolutely brilliant.

By Skeptigirl (not verified) on 28 Sep 2009 #permalink

revere: Is there a serological test for swine flu yet? I can't find any information about it.

pd: Depends on what you mean. They could do acute phase and convalescent sera but I don't know if the reagents are readily available. It can certainly be done, because there are several seroprevalence reports out already. Maybe someone else knows. Try asking Vincent at Virology blog (I'd do it but I'm preparing a big lecture and have to work on it).

Thanks for your detailed response, Revere. I am very curious about it but was not successful searching on my own.