The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) recently celebrated International Bat Week by encouraging residents to learn about the important role bats play in the environment while also being cautious in their presence.
Bats are beneficial mammals that eat thousands of mosquitoes and other nuisance insects every day. However, bats can spread the rabies virus just like raccoons, foxes, skunks and other animals. Rabies can be fatal but is also preventable with treatment before the onset of symptoms.
“This year’s Bat Week campaign [was] another opportunity to educate and share awareness about bats, which unfortunately, have a generally bad reputation,” said Terri McCollister, DHEC’s Rabies Program Director. “While bats are one of the more recognizable species that can carry and transmit the rabies virus, not every bat is infected with rabies. Bats are an important part of South Carolina’s ecosystems, and they deserve a healthy degree of respect just like all wild animals.”
Members of the South Carolina Bat Working Group, including DHEC and the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR), have compiled a list of events being held during Bat Week as well as a link to Gov. Henry McMaster’s 2023 proclamation for S.C. Bat Week, available at southcarolinabatworkinggroup.org. DHEC has additional educational materials available at scdhec.gov/batweek.
If you find yourself in the presence of a bat, it’s important to know that it’s not always possible to tell if you’ve been bitten because their teeth are small and bites may go unnoticed. It should be assumed a person or pet has been potentially bitten by a bat when:
- a bat is found in a room, living space or tent where someone was sleeping
- a bat is found where children, pets, or persons with impaired mental capacity (intoxicated or mentally disabled) have been left unattended
- they have been in direct contact with a bat
DHEC advises that bats involved with potential human or pet exposures should be captured using precautions to prevent exposure when possible. Once a bat is released it can’t be tested for rabies, which makes it difficult to know whether a potentially bitten person or pet has been exposed to rabies. Contact a wildlife control operator or visit DHEC’s bat webpage to learn how to safely capture a bat.Once captured, contact your local rabies prevention team. They will assist with transporting the bat to DHEC’s Public Health Lab so it can be tested for rabies.
If a specimen is confirmed positive for rabies, the exposed person or owner of an exposed pet will receive guidance on whether to proceed with the life-saving rabies post-exposure prophylaxis (Rabies PEP) treatment for a person or whether the exposed pet should be quarantined, as required by the South Carolina Rabies Control Act.
“You can’t tell if a bat or any other animal has rabies by simply looking at it; rabies has to be confirmed in a laboratory,” said McCollister. “As with any wild animal, give bats their space and call a professional wildlife control operator if bats are found inside your home or in the crevices of your eaves or roof, or in other small openings of your home. A wildlife control operator can safely remove the bats without causing them or you harm.”
As part of Bat Week, DHEC will be spotlighting drawing contest entries from students on the agency’s social media platforms. Learn more about Bat Week at scdhec.gov/batweek or southcarolinabatworkinggroup.org. Learn more about rabies prevention at scdhec.gov/rabies or cdc.gov/rabies.
If you believe a person or animal has come in contact with a bat or another animal that potentially has rabies, please call your local DHEC Rabies Prevention Program office.