Early one morning, I was heading through the kitchen toward the back door on my way to work when I realized there was a large bat flying around our breakfast room, swooping around like in a Dracula movie. As it flew at me, I reactively swung at it and, like hitting a Nerf ball, the bat was thrown across the room, landing on the kitchen floor a little stunned. I closed all doors to the rest of the house, locked open the exit outside, washed my hands thoroughly, and as the bat started flying again, I shooed the creature out into the early morning darkness.
Bats are a marvel of evolutionary diversity with something like 47 different species in the U.S. alone. They are important to our ecosystem as they eat their weight in bugs every night, carry seeds which reforest depleted woodland areas, and pollinate plants. Experts believe that these winged mammals first developed powered flight about 60 million years ago and later the capacity for radar-like echolocation to allow nighttime hunting and flying in a cave without any light.
About one percent of bats carry a deadly virus called rabies. Any victim stricken with rabies (whether bat, dog, skunk, cat, or human) will eventually become confused, agitated, aggressive and infectious until they die. This is not far off from cinematic portrayals of zombies who change into confused and aggressive monsters after being bitten. The difference is that we have a rabies vaccine that can save the bitten victim from an awful death.
So, after striking down the bat, did I need to receive rabies shots (post-exposure prophylaxis) to gain protection from developing the disease? This would have involved four doses of rabies vaccine over 14 days, and one injection of active immune globulin. I checked out the last 15 cases of rabies that had occurred over five years in the U.S. and 9 were from bat exposure, 4 from dogs, 1 from a fox, and 1 unknown. All but one died, and the one survivor remains severely disabled. The CDC recommends having rabies shots “if there’s been a bite or an exposure to saliva into eyes, nose, mouth, or open wound.” I did not seek out rabies shots as I did not receive a bite, the bat was acting normally, and I thoroughly washed my hands after touching the bat.
Although I did become irritable following a few restless nights, I did not turn into a rabid or rabies-like Zombie.