European bat lyssavirus (EBLV)
European Bat Lyssaviruses (EBLV), commonly known at bat rabies or rabies in bats is a fatal viral disease which can affect all mammals, including humans, if no treatment is received.
EBLV has been detected at a low prevalence in certain species of bats in GB. There have been a small number of confirmed cases in humans.
The disease is notifiable: if you suspect the disease, you must immediately notify the duty vet in your local Animal Health Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA) office.
The human health risk of contracting the disease is extremely low in the UK and Western Europe, but higher in some popular tourist destinations.
About the disease
The characteristics of the disease vary greatly; a definitive diagnosis can only be made by laboratory testing after the bat’s death.
EBLV is transmitted through contact with an infected bat, for example through bites, scratches or saliva.
British bats are most active during the summer. This is the time when many householders discover they are sharing their space with bats, which may have established a roost in their roof space or garden. Bats will generally avoid contact with humans but occasionally may enter property or get caught by a cat. If you find a bat, dead or alive, do not touch it. If it appears to be sick or in difficulty, or has died, call the Bat Conservation Trust helpline on 0845 130 0228 and ask for advice.
Defra takes a precautionary approach to possible contacts with bats by bat workers and others handling bats on a routine basis as well as any incident where a member of the public has come into contact with a bat. The Health Protection Agency (HPA) has detailed guidance, which includes recommended pre-exposure vaccination for those handling bats, and immediate precautionary administration of rabies vaccine for anyone bitten or scratched by a bat. In light of the HPA guidance, it is not necessary to automatically euthanase a healthy bat for rabies testing involved in a biting or scratching incident.
Defra works closely with the Bat Conservation Trust (BCT) and the Animal Health Veterinary Laboratories Agency to ensure prompt advice is given and action taken in the event of such incidents.
Bats are legally protected species and must not be disturbed, killed or their roosts damaged or destroyed. If you have any questions about bats, contact the BCT Helpline on 0845 130 0228.
Key legislation relating to rabies:
- The Rabies (Importation of Dogs, Cats and Other Mammals) Order 1974, as amended
- The Rabies (Control) Order 1974
- The Rabies (Compensation) Order 1976
- The Animal Health Act 1981
Key legislation relating to protection of bats:
- The Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981) (as amended)
- The Countryside and Rights of Way Act, 2000
- The Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act ( 2006)
- The Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations (2010).