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The Truth is Out There: What You Need to Know About Bats

Categories: Vectorborne

Even though bats can spread diseases to people, they also benefit people in many ways and are usually able to peacefully exist alongside humans.

Even though bats can spread diseases to people, they also benefit people in many ways and are usually able to peacefully exist alongside humans.

Warm weather is here, and you know what that means — more people are headed outdoors. You might even be involved in summertime activities that take you into places such as woods, forests and caves. But you might not know about the risks associated with an animal often found in these areas: bats.

Staying alert for bats in woods, caves, and other outdoor areas can help people stay safe from deadly diseases.

Staying alert for bats in woods, caves, and other outdoor areas can help people stay safe from deadly diseases.

Most bat species give birth to their young during late spring and early summer because it is the best time for nursing mothers to get the food they need, whether they eat bugs or fruit. Bats of the same species often live together in colonies to raise their pups together. These colonies may be in caves or even in buildings such as your home—any place that is dark and warm. During winter some bat species hibernate, others migrate to warmer countries (Central and South America). Because of this, you have a greater chance of coming across a bat in the summer than you might in the winter. There are a few important facts you need to know about bats:

  • Bats are not blind. Their eyesight may not be as keen as other night animals, like owls, and they use a system called echolocation to find their food, but they can see things.
  • They aren’t rodents and they aren’t birds. They are the only mammals that can fly, and there are more than 40 different species of bats living in the United States and Canada.
  • They will not suck your blood. Bat species in the US and Canada primarily eat insects.

While bats perform many important functions in nature, they have been associated  with several diseases that can harm people.

These diseases include:

Other bat-associated viruses causing diseases in humans, usually found in more tropical climates, include:

People can get these diseases in different ways. Bat bites are a common way. Being near bat droppings or getting bat saliva on an open wound or cut are others. This doesn’t mean you should fear or dislike bats. They actually do a  lot of good for humans. They prey on insects that can cost farmers billions of dollars, and they help rain  forests survive by spreading seeds.
But just in case, there are things you can do to help make sure you don’t get any diseases from bats:

  • Try to avoid direct contact with bats (and their droppings)
  • Stay alert in areas where they can be found (such as caves and some wooded areas)
  • Consider “bat-proofing” your home
  • Contact animal or public health authorities if you are bitten by bat or come in direct contact with bats

Keeping both bats and people safe is good for everyone. And that’s the most important truth.

To learn more about bats, visit the following sites:

Public Comments

Comments listed below are posted by individuals not associated with CDC, unless otherwise stated. These comments do not represent the official views of CDC, and CDC does not guarantee that any information posted by individuals on this blog is correct, and disclaims any liability for any loss or damage resulting from reliance on any such information. Read more about our comment policy ».

  1. July 24, 2010 at 11:57 pm ET  -   Keith

    Hi Ali, I’d heard about North American bats possibly carrying rabies, but have never heard about Histoplasmosis being carried by bats here. The one thing that is for sure is what you eluded to about bats eating insects and helping keeping nature in balance because of it. Good to see a fact filled report on bats for a change that provide both the good and potential bad aspects of the species.

    Link to this comment

  2. July 28, 2010 at 2:45 am ET  -   Dannyboy

    Bats have always freaked me out for some strange reason. Education is the key to understanding these often harmless and misunderstood creatures.

    Thanks, Daniel Tetreault.

    Link to this comment

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