What Diseases Can Bats Carry?
When it comes to animals with zoonotic viruses, bats may be at the very top. These flying mammals serve as hosts for more than 60 viruses that can affect humans. New research shows that the viruses they host per specie are higher than that of rodents. Luckily, the risk of contracting many of these viruses is extremely low. To give you an understanding of some of these diseases, we’re going to examine how they are spread, their effect, and how to prevent them.
Rabies is one of the most feared diseases in bats. However, it’s important to put things into perspective. All mammals like foxes, raccoons, coyotes, and skunks may contract and carry rabies. So, it’s not exclusive to bats. Furthermore, less than 1% of all bats have rabies. This further makes the risk of transmission very low.
Only one or two people die of rabies in the United States each year.
The rabies virus is transmitted through direct contact of broken skin, eyes, nose, or mouth with the saliva or nervous tissue system of an infected animal.
A bite from a rabid bat is the most common way of contracting rabies. However, non-bite exposures can also be risky. For instance, if a rabid bat has saliva on its nails and it scratches you, there’s a possibility of contracting the virus.
Early symptoms generally include fever, muscle weakness, and tingling, which then devolves into agitation, hallucination, excess salivation, and fear of water. If left untreated, it slowly leads to paralysis, followed by coma and eventual death.
To prevent contracting rabies, do not handle a bat. When going into a bat-infested area, make sure you wear protective clothing to prevent a bite or scratch.
This is a very rare lung infection that can potentially affect humans and pets. It is caused by inhaling Histoplasma capsulatum fungal spores that are commonly found in bat droppings or guano. While most cases do not require treatment, people with a weaker immune system may experience health complications.
Common risk factors include sustained exposure to spores and underlying health conditions. Early symptoms begin with fever, dry cough, joint pain, and chest pain, which can then devolve into shortness of breath and even coughing up blood.
In rare cases, serious complications may arise leading to long-term infections like Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome, Heart Function Issues, Meningitis, Adrenal glands, and hormone problems. Luckily, it’s easily treatable if tackled at the early stages.
To prevent histoplasmosis, avoid coming in contact with bat droppings and guano. If you’re moving into a confined space infested with bats, make use of a breathing mask to cover your nose and mouth to prevent the inhalation of these spores.
While rabies and histoplasmosis are the two most common diseases associated with bats, they carry many other diseases like:
Salmonellosis is a common bacterial disease that causes gastroenteritis. Gastroenteritis is an inflammation of the lining of the intestines. They’re usually shed through feces but humans and pets mostly get infected when they consume contaminated food and water. Although it is found in animals like dogs, cattle, and poultry, some species of flying bats are also carriers. That’s why you should always wash your hands with soap and water after handling a bat’s feces or urine.
A growing body of research shows that bats are carriers of highly diverse leptospires. This bacterial infection is usually transmitted through the urine of an infected animal. While cattle and rodents are the main carriers, bats may also be infected. To avoid getting Leptospirosis, do not allow bat urine to come in contact with broken skin, your nose, eyes, or mouth.
The flying fox is a natural host for the Hendra virus. While no evidence suggests that humans can contract the Hendra virus from flying foxes either through direct contact or contact with their feces, this virus can be transmitted indirectly through infected horses. Horses can contract Henda virus when their food gets contaminated with flying foxes’ urine or saliva. Humans with close contact with the bodily fluid of an infected horse risk contracting this disease.
White Nose Syndrome
This is a fairly recent condition affecting bats in the United States. It is characterized by a white fungus that grows on the snout of bats. Bats with this condition get awaken during hibernation and the result could be fatal as they cannot preserve their fat stores through winter. Although many of the strains affect only bats, it’s still prudent to proceed with caution when handling bats.
When dealing with a bat infestation problem, proceed with care. Avoid direct contact with bats, their feces, and urine. Never forget to put on a breathing mask when going into a confined space infested with bats and make sure to wear protective clothing. If you protect yourself, then you eliminate the risk of contracting many of the diseases associated with bats.
And in case you come in direct contact with a bat through a bite or a scratch, ensure that you get yourself examined. If you begin to notice some symptoms, seek medical attention as soon as possible.