August 01, 2018

What should you do after awaking with a bat in the room?

Q: My daughter awoke to find a bat in her bedroom the other night. She doesn’t think she was bitten, but I wonder whether she should have been seen by a doctor to be safe?

A: Yes, she should have. Anytime there's a possibility of direct contact between a person and a bat, preventive treatment for rabies and other infections should occur immediately. Treatment can only be avoided if the person is absolutely sure that a bite, scratch or exposure to mucous membranes — including the mouth, nose and eyelids — didn't occur. Since a sleeping person — or a child, mentally disabled person or intoxicated person — can't be certain or express with certainty that an exposure didn't occur, it's important to take action. Since rabies vaccination isn't routinely given, most people will not have received it.

In an ideal situation, a bat in the home should be collected by your local animal control or wildlife conservation agency and submitted for rabies testing. If you attempt to capture and secure the bat in a box yourself, use leather gloves for protection.

If rabies is ruled out in the bat, it's likely that no treatment will be needed. However, if the bat can't be captured, contact your doctor immediately about preventive treatment.

If you haven't been vaccinated against rabies, management of a possible exposure — with or without a wound — involves an antibody and a vaccine series. A dose of the antibody human rabies immune globulin (HRIG) immediately inactivates the virus. The rabies vaccine is typically given in four doses — the first dose as soon as possible after exposure, and then on a set schedule thereafter.

Wounds from a bat bite or scratch can cause concerns besides rabies. When you seek medical care, the doctor can thoroughly clean and treat the wound to reduce the risk of an infection occurring. A tetanus shot also may be recommended if it's been 10 years since you received one.