Bat bites are uncommon in the United States.

About 1% of emergency room visits in the United States are due to animal bites, according to 2021 research. More than 95% of these bites are from dogs and cats.

It’s critical to seek immediate medical attention any time you suspect you’ve been bitten by a bat. Bats, raccoons, and skunks are the most common animals to transmit rabies in the United States.

Rabies is a viral infection of your central nervous system. It almost always leads to death if it’s not treated with a prophylactic vaccine before symptoms appear. All unvaccinated mammals are thought to be susceptible to rabies.

In 2004, Jenna Giese-Frassetto became the first documented case of a person surviving rabies without a vaccine after a bat bit her in church.

Let’s examine the risks of bat bites and what to do if you are bitten.

Bats can transmit infections to humans through their saliva. The deadliest disease transmitted by bats is rabies.


Rabies kills up to an estimated 70,000 people worldwide per year. Researchers state the majority of these cases are in less developed countries. In the United States and Canada, most documented cases of rabies in the last 10 years have come from bats. In less developed countries, dog bites are the most common cause.

There have only been about two deaths per year from rabies in the United States for the past 20 years. Between 2003 and 2015, 81.1% of cases of rabies transmitted through animals in the United States were from bat bites. More than 30 types of bats are known to carry rabies.


The fungus Histoplasma capsulatum causes histoplasmosis. It’s found in bat and bird droppings. You can contract this infection if you’re in close contact with bat feces and breathe in the spores. Symptoms can vary but can resemble pneumonia.

Salmonellosis and yersiniosis

Bats are most associated with transmitting viral diseases and fungal conditions. They have been known to transmit bacterial infections, too, but this is less common.

A group of bacteria called salmonella causes salmonellosis. The infection typically causes gastrointestinal symptoms, like:

Salmonella typhimurium and Salmonella enteritidis have been identified in bats and are frequent causes of human disease.

Another type of bacteria carried by bats, Yersinia enterocolitica, causes yersiniosis. This infection can cause symptoms like:

Bat bites can be very small. They may not leave a visible mark, especially if you’re bitten by a bat that eats insects. You’ll most likely be able to feel the bite if you’re awake.

Vampire bats that drink the blood of animals may leave noticeable puncture wounds and cause bleeding. Only one type of vampire bat is found in the United States, in the very southwestern part of Texas.

It’s possible to get bitten without knowing it. If you find a bat in an area you’re sleeping in, it’s important to assume you were in contact and seek urgent medical attention.

Bats are found in almost every part of the world and region in the United States. Most types of bats seek dark areas to sleep, such as:

  • unoccupied buildings
  • bridges
  • mines
  • trees
  • rock crevices
  • caves

Most bats hibernate or migrate to warm regions in the winter.

Bats that are grounded may be more likely to have rabies than bats that can fly.

According to the Bat Conservation Trust, wash your wound with soap and water for at least 5 minutes. The organization also recommends cleaning the wound with an alcohol base antiseptic or another disinfectant.

It’s important to immediately seek medical attention after cleansing the wound.

Medical emergency

It’s important to seek emergency medical attention anytime you’re bitten or scratched by a bat. Rabies vaccination should ideally be administered as soon as possible.

Any direct contact with a bat should be considered a rabies exposure, even if you’re not sure that you’ve been bitten or scratched.

It’s important to seek medical attention if you wake up in a room or tent with a bat, too. Scratches and bites may have happened overnight and may not be apparent when you wake up.

The main treatment for bat bites is rabies vaccination. The bite wounds themselves are rarely serious or need treatment.

Rabies treatment involves the injection of human rabies immune globulin and a rabies vaccine as soon as possible after the bite, as well as additional rabies vaccines 3, 7, and 14 days later.

There are more than 40 types of bats in North America. Common types include:

  • little brown bat
  • big brown bat
  • Mexican free-tailed bat
  • pallid bat
  • Brazilian free-tailed bat
  • northern long-eared bat

According to Bat Conservation International, five of the species living in the continental United States have transmitted rabies to humans. They were the:

  • silver-haired bat
  • big brown bat
  • Mexican free-tailed bat

The other two types weren’t confirmed, but experts suspect they were the western and eastern small-footed bat.

If you or somebody else has been bitten by a bat, capturing it for testing can help determine whether rabies treatment is needed. Here’s how you can capture a bat for testing:

  1. Put on thick leather or rubber work gloves.
  2. If the bat is in the air, try knocking it down with a broom, racket, net, or similar piece of equipment. Take care not to damage its brain, since it’s needed for testing.
  3. When the bat has landed, put a box, dish, or can over the bat. Slide a piece of cardboard under the bat. Carefully replace the cardboard with a lid, or tape the cardboard in place.
  4. Poke air holes in the lid of the container.
  5. Call your local health department.

Find state health department phone numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) here.

Bats are one of the most common carriers of rabies. If you suspect you’ve been bitten by a bat, it’s important to seek medical attention as soon as possible.

The rabies prophylactic vaccine is highly effective at treating rabies before symptoms start.