Rabies is a fatal viral infection that is spread by the saliva of infected animals, generally through a bite.
Less than 1% of all bats carry rabies, and bat bites are very rare. From 1995-2009, an average of 2 people per year in the U.S. died from contact with rabid bats. In contrast, the majority of the estimated 55,000 rabies deaths worldwide each year are caused by dog bites.
A potential rabies exposure from a bat can only occur through a bite. A bat that is lying on the ground is much more likely to be infected and may bite if handled. According to the Center for Disease Control and the NJ Department of Health, a bat that is found in a house where people are sleeping should be caught and tested for rabies. However, it is highly unlikely that a person could unknowingly be bitten by a bat. Exceptions include young children, the mentally impaired, or those under the influence of alcohol. Therefore, under most circumstances, steps should be taken to allow the bat to freely exit the house.
Rabid bats do not become overly aggressive or attack humans. A bat with rabies will get sick, and may show abnormal behaviors, such as daytime flight, paralysis, or an inability to fly. Grounded bats may be more likely to have rabies than bats that can fly, so it is important to NEVER handle any bat without proper protection.
Contact with a bat is defined as a bite, scratch, or other physical contact with a bat. If contact has occurred, immediately clean the affected area with soap and water. Contact your medical provider to receive post-exposure rabies vaccines, and let the local health authority know about the bite.