Maine CDC Offers Tips to Prevent Getting Rabies from Bats

Bats are most active from late July to early September

AUGUSTA — The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (Maine CDC) urges Maine people and visitors to take steps to avoid bats to reduce potential exposure to rabies. Bats are most active in Maine from late July into early September, however bat exposures can occur during any time of year. The Maine CDC encourages people to be cautious around bats, keep their distance, and know what to do after exposure to a bat.

Bats play an important role in nature but can spread viruses like rabies. Rabies can be fatal in humans, pets, and livestock. Timely treatment following a rabies exposure is effective in preventing disease in humans. Human rabies cases are rare in the United States, and Maine last reported a human rabies case in 1937. Bats, foxes, raccoons, and skunks are the most common animals infected with rabies in Maine. As of July 24, 2023, six bats had tested positive in Maine this year. Last year, bats made up 45 percent of the 458 animals sent to the Maine state lab for rabies testing. Nine of those bats tested positive for rabies.

Rabies spreads when infected mammals bite, and in some cases scratch, other mammals. Contact with an infected animal’s brain or spinal cord can also spread the virus to humans or pets. The virus does not spread in blood, urine, feces, skunk spray, or dried saliva. A rabid animal may show a variety of symptoms or no symptoms at all. Always be cautious around wildlife, including bats, or any animals you do not know.

Bat Exposures

Determining exposure to a bat may be difficult. Evaluate each exposure on a case-by-case basis and always treat bats with caution. A bat exposure may include:

  • Bites
  • Scratches
  • Handling a bat without gloves
  • Waking up to a bat in the bedroom
  • Finding a bat in a room with an unaccompanied child or incapacitated adult
  • Pets and livestock holding a bat in their mouths or found in the same area as the bat (like a living room or barn)

Contact a health care provider about any potential exposure. Follow these steps if a bat exposure occurs:

Trap the Bat

  • If an exposure occurs, always try to capture the bat if you can do so safely. Wear thick gloves to protect your hands. Put a container over the bat once it lands, then gently slide cardboard underneath to trap the bat.
  • Do not damage the bat’s head.
  • Only release the bat outdoors if you are certain the bat did not have contact with people or pets. If unsure, call the Maine CDC before releasing the bat.

Submit the Bat for Rabies Testing

  • Maine’s Health and Environmental Testing Laboratory tests bats for rabies.
  • Do not mail the bat to the lab yourself.
  • If a bat exposure occurs, contact the nearest Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s (Maine IF&W) Warden Service. If you cannot contact a game warden, call your local animal control officer. They will pick up and deliver the bat to the state lab for rabies testing.
  • If the bat tests positive, an epidemiologist from the Maine CDC will follow up. Bats submitted before 9 a.m. usually have results available the same day.

See a Health Care Provider

  • Immediately wash the bite or scratch with soap and warm water for 10-15 minutes.
  • Contact a health care provider. You can prevent getting rabies after a bat exposure by receiving a series of injections over the course of a few weeks – this is called rabies post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP). PEP must be started within 10 days of the exposure.
  • In most cases, you can wait to begin PEP until lab results come back for the tested animal. Your health care provider will make the decision to begin or stop rabies PEP.

Vaccinate Pets and Livestock

  • Call your veterinarian if bats have contact with pets or livestock. Exposed animals may need to quarantine for a certain length of time to rule out rabies.
  • Keep your pets up to date on rabies vaccination to help reduce or eliminate quarantine times.

Bat Proof Buildings

  • Contact a Maine IF&W about options for removing bats from your home or building.

For More Information: