Are Bats Dangerous to Humans?

Many people are squeamish about bats. They come out at night, which is enough to give them all sorts of associations with the forces of darkness. They look like flying mice and screech when they’re caught. They have sharp teeth, beady eyes and often grotesque little faces. Most bats are harmless to people, and even beneficial, but some can spread disease. Diseases that are spread from animals to humans are called zoonoses. Here are a few of the zoonoses that can be spread from bats to human.

Australian bat lyssavirus (ABL) is contracted by humans who try to handle a bat and the bat scratches or bites. The disease is exceedingly rare, but when it’s caught it’s almost always fatal. Basically, it’s a form of rabies.

Humans can contract leptospirosis, a bacterial infection, when they come in contact with bat urine, though the main carriers of leptospirosis are cattle and rodents. Leptospirosis begins with symptoms like the flu, which can progress to liver or kidney damage. Still, it’s rarely fatal. The disease is also called Rat Catcher’s Yellows, among other colorful names.

Salmonella can be picked up by humans coming into contact with bat droppings. The bat, in this case the large bat known as the flying fox, isn’t the only animal that can infect a human with salmonella, but it appears to be a vector.

Histoplasmosis is a lung disease. It’s rare because it’s mostly contracted by people who visit caves where bats live. The bats’ feces drop into the cave dust. The dust may be kicked up, then breathed in.

Hendra virus is caught indirectly from the flying fox. People get this virus from the body fluids of horses. A flying fox who carries the virus may eliminate on something the horse eats, like a bucket of oats. When the horse ingests the oats it becomes infected, and infects a human in turn. This infection can cause bleeding and swelling in the lungs, or meningitis. Hendra virus infection, fortunately, is also rare among humans in Australia.


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