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Bats & Rabies

Facts About Rabies

Rabies is a viral disease that can cause fatal infections in any warm–blooded bird or mammal, including humans.

  • Rabies virus prefers to live in nerve tissue, particularly that of the brain and central nervous system.
  • Once in the brain, the virus causes damage to specific areas that control behaviour. Resulting behavioural changes include an initial aggressive stage and a later lethargic stage. In bats, the aggressive period is short, with a longer period of lethargy in which they can be found on the ground, unable to fly.
  • The virus accumulates in the salivary glands and is transferred in saliva. Transmission can be:
    • Direct – occurring when an animal eats or is bitten by an infected individual
    • Indirect – occurring if large amounts of saliva contaminate an object and then are transferred to an open wound in the skin
  • Death finally occurs when the virus damages vital parts of the brain.

Alberta has a long history of rabies control. A general fact sheet about rabies and a summary of rabies management in Alberta are available at:

 Facts About Rabies in Bats

  • Rabies probably occurred in insectivorous bats in North America for centuries, but it was first identified in 1953 in Florida.
  • The virus is maintained within bat populations and is transmitted between individuals of the same or different bat species.
  • Bat rabies rarely infects species other than bats.
  • Rabies virus overwinters in a dormant or latent state in hibernating bats and is re-activated by stress or by a return to normal metabolic conditions of the bat after hibernation. This gives rise to rabid bats in early summer and fall.
  • Bats which undertake long rigorous migrations are subject to added stress which may affect development of the virus.
  • The pattern of rabies infections in insectivorous bats is consistent across North America and has not changed over the last 50 years. Data from Alberta were reviewed in 1986. For details, visit the Journal of Wildlife Diseases website at:


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Updated: Jan 9, 2014