What is the role of bats in the transmission of rabies in the US?

Updated: Jun 21, 2019
  • Author: Sandra G Gompf, MD, FACP, FIDSA; Chief Editor: Michael Stuart Bronze, MD  more...
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Bat (avian) rabies appears to be widespread in the 49 continental states, and since 1980, most endemic rabies cases in humans in the United States have been associated with bat strains. [10]

Bat bites, if noticed by the patient, are generally thought to be trivial injuries because of the small size of most temperate-zone species (eg, silver-haired bats, eastern pipistrelles). In addition, bat bites can go completely unrecognized by the patient; consequently, appropriate postexposure prophylaxis is not administered.

One third of rabies cases occur in children, and most have no known exposure to a rabid animal. Because children may not be able to recall contact with a bat, if a bat is found in a room where a child has been sleeping, the bat should be captured and submitted for examination to the county or state health authorities. In 60% of cases, testing of the bat can avoid the need for rabies immunization. [11]

At least 30 of the more than 39 species of bats in the United States have been reported as rabid at some time.

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