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Could I have rabies? I may have beenbitten by a bat

Asked by Raj, California

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Last night, I was walking out from work late at night, and all of a sudden, out of nowhere, a bat sitting on the parking lot lawn charged toward me and within seconds flew very close to me. I did not have time to react or realize what happened or if it touched me.

How would I know If I was bitten by that bat? At what point would I need to take the vaccine?

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Living Well Expert Dr. Jennifer Shu Pediatrician,
Children's Medical Group

Expert answer

Thanks for your question. Bats are one of the most common animals that transmit rabies in the U.S., along with raccoons, skunks, foxes and coyotes. The rabies virus can be found in all parts of the country except for Hawaii. The virus affects the central nervous system and if not treated, it is almost always fatal. Fortunately, most animals are not infected with rabies, so transmission to humans is rare, affecting just a handful of people every year.

If there is concern about an exposure to rabies, prophylaxis consisting of rabies immune globulin (an injection that contains human antibodies against the rabies virus) and rabies vaccine (five injections over the course of four weeks) is recommended. This treatment should be started as soon as possible after the exposure, ideally within 24 hours.

In general, simply being near a bat is unlikely to increase one's risk of getting rabies. Bat bites reportedly feel like sharp jabs and may leave tiny marks that look like scratches. Most adults who were awake during the time of a bat bite will know they have been bitten. However, if a person is uncertain whether a bite or scratch from a bat occurred (such as if a bat was found in the room of a sleeping person, a child, a person with mental disabilities or someone who is impaired by the influence of alcohol or drugs -- basically anyone who is unable to give an accurate report about a bite), the rabies prophylaxis regimen is recommended.

For anyone uncertain about whether a situation involving a bat or other animal requires treatment for rabies prevention, your doctor or health department can help advise you.

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