Halloween is here, which makes me think of scary things like ghosts and headless horsemen and vampire bats. Although it’s debatable that one could meet her demise by an attack from a pumpkin-headed man, it is a FACT that a bat can kill you. This excruciating death doesn’t even need to involve vampire lore. It’s perhaps an equally frightening way to go – by rabies infection.
Twice in recent dinner conversation the subject of bat-exposure and rabies has come up. Both parties who had the separate bat encounters were shocked to learn from our dinner-table doctor that rabies vaccines are standard medical procedure, unless the bat in question could be tested for rabies.
Basically, DTD explained, when you find a bat in your house and you don’t know how long it has been there, you may have a minuscule scratch or bite and not even be aware of it. Bats’ teeth are so fine that they could bite you while sleeping and you wouldn’t even know it!
Even if the exposure is highly unlikely, there is no cure for rabies, so shots are in order. Again, if the bat tests negative for rabies then you have nothing to worry about.
If you have been exposed to a bat and are not sure if it is infected with rabies, you must begin the vaccinations almost immediately. You will need several doses of the vaccine within a two week period. If you have a weakened immune system, you’ll need more doses. Even if you already had the vaccine before the bite, you need immediate medical care and more vaccinations.
Unfortunately once symptoms appear, rabies is nearly always fatal. The first symptoms can appear anywhere from a few days to more than a year after the bite happens.
This morose, disturbing conversation surprisingly did not ruin either of our dinner parties. The first couple had a bat encounter several years ago and was merely reminiscing about the absurdity of attempting to get the bat out of the house. If they had rabies, they wouldn’t be at the dinner party! The other couple and their two kids went through the vaccination process, which was a bit of a scary story in itself. Apparently there are some areas of our country where the vaccine isn’t readily available and time is of the essence.
If you want to hear a harrowing and true story about rabies, listen to This American Life podcast Halloween episode “And the Call Was Coming from the Basement”
If you want to know more about rabies check out the CDC information at