What Diseases to Bats Carry?
In the United States, people are at very low risk of contracting diseases from bats and the risk is virtually zero if simple precautions are followed. There are only two primary diseases that stem from bat contact in the United States: rabies and histoplasmosis.
Histoplasmosis is an illness originated by breathing in spores of a fungus that is frequently found in bird plus bat droppings. Dangerous levels of the fungus usually take years to develop and are the majority commonly transmitted when the spores turn into airborne, often through cleanup of an attic after a colony of bats has been evicted or during demolition projects. While these are the primary sources of histoplasmosis, the virus can also be found in such innocuous places as lawn and garden soil.
When removing deposits of bat droppings, or guano, protective masks and clothing are strongly recommended, along with wetting down the surface during the removal process to avoid filling the air with infected dust. Most people with histoplasmosis never develop symptoms plus are not even aware that they are infected but for a few — primarily infants as well as those with cooperation immune systems — histoplasmosis can be severe.
With respect to rabies, don't bother a bat and it won't bother you. Rabies is a virus and if you must handle a bat – for example, to remove one that has accidentally strayed into your home -- wear leather gloves. Then, even if it should bite and it happens to be infected with rabies you won't get the disease. In fact, only about one bat in a hundred carries the virus, about the same as other wild creatures.
In the unlikely event of an unprotected bat bite, it is important to get medical attention immediately as well as to turn the offending bat over to animal control. The bat will be tested and if found to be infected, a painful series of shots will likely be required.
Rabies is but one in a family of zoonotic viruses -- 33 currently known -- that are easily carried by bats. The problem currently is confined primarily to countries in the Southern Hemisphere but instances of other viruses have also emerged recently, including cases of Ebola in Americans returning from visits to African countries.
Another is the Nipah virus, which apparently originated in Malaysia but has since spread to Bangladesh and India. One outbreak was linked to infected bats that dropped fruit into pig pens, exposing the pigs to their saliva and urine. People became infected after coming in close contact with the pigs.
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