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Refresher on Rabies Safety

Although most bat sightings occur during the summer, residents of homes where bats are hibernating may encounter bats in the middle of the winter. Bats are believed to wake up from hibernation due to temperature changes within the house. While the bat is as unhappy to be in the living space of the house as the person who finds it, the potential for rabies exposure should be the most important consideration. Human rabies is rare in the United States, however when it occurs, the majority of cases are from bat bites. Bat bites are very superficial and easily overlooked. Persons can be bitten while they are asleep and not be aware of bat exposure.

The following points describe situations where a bat should be captured and tested for rabies:

  • A bat found in a room with a sleeping person or someone waking to find a bat in the room.

  • A bat found in the room with persons who cannot clearly communicate about any bat contact , such as

    small children, intoxicated or drug impaired persons, or mentally impaired individuals.

  • A physical collision with a bat or stepping on a bat with bare feet.

    Bats found in the previously described scenarios should not be released outdoors. They should be captured and submitted to the laboratory for rabies testing. Bats can be easily captured when they land on the walls or curtains. If a butterfly net is available, it can be positioned over the resting bat and a stiff piece of cardboard is slid between the net and the wall. This makes a small enclosure to keep the bat secure until it is placed on a container with a lid. If no net is available, the same process can be performed with a large jar or container. It is important not to damage the bat by striking them as this may void potential testing. Information on capturing bats can also be found at Submit the captured bats for testing through a veterinarian or public health agency.

    People with potential contact to bats that could not be located or accidentally released should contact their physician to determine if post-exposure rabies treatment is required.

    In situations with wild animal contact, the animal should be confined or killed if possible to do so safely. Since the intact brain is necessary for laboratory testing, do not shoot the animal in the head. All specimens must be kept cold or frozen and not be decomposed for lab testing.

    One cannot diagnose an animal as rabid by visual observation or any other test except laboratory examination of the brain. Owned dogs, cats, and ferrets that have bitten may be confined for 10 days to observe for rabies symptoms. If clinical signs of rabies appear, they are then euthanized and tested. All testing for human exposure is performed at Kansas State University Rabies Laboratory. Some species of animal testing with human exposure will be paid for by the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services. Individual case approval must be obtained before submission of the animal.

    The rabies treatment protocol for people exposed to rabid animals consists of one injection of rabies immune globulin and a series of 5 injections of rabies vaccine given in the arm muscle over a period of one month. There are no treatments for domestic animals that are exposed to a rabid animal. Fortunately, an animal that is properly vaccinated for rabies will have good immunity to the disease.

    A point to remember is that rabies is nearly always fatal unless post-exposure treatment is undertaken. It is suggested that a public health official be consulted in cases that involve human exposure. 

Annette Bredthauer, MPH, DVM Public Health Veterinarian
Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services
402-471-1374, 402-471-2937 Division phone

Stephen Vantassel, Project Coordinator-Wildlife Damage Management
University of Nebraska-Lincoln