The risk of people contracting rabies in Canada, from bats or other wildlife, is low. (Photo by Alaska Department of Fish and Game)

Fear of bats unnecessary despite rabies death

Bats are beneficial, says Kerry Wood Nature Centre in Red Deer

Bats are more helpful than harmful, despite the recent death of a British Columbia man who contracted the rabies virus from a bat bite.

Todd Nivens, executive director of the Waskasoo Environmental Education Society, said the man’s death was tragic, but getting rabies from a bat is not a rampant threat.

“Getting rabies from a bat is remarkably low on the list of things people should be worried about,” Nivens said.

“The reality is the benefits of bats far outweigh any potential risk. I can’t over stress enough that merely living around bats is not a cause for concern. They have no interest in people. If they get inside (a building), all they want to do is get out.”

And they are not likely to fly into someone by accident and get tangled in their hair, as seen in the movies, he said.

“All the things about bats having bad eyesight is a myth. They see quite well and they also have echolocation to help them out. They know where they’re going. They can avoid obstacles.”

He said before the recent B.C. death, only 25 people in Canada since 1924 had died from contracting rabies from wildlife or domestic animals — 12 people in Quebec, seven in Ontario, two in Saskatchewan, two in Alberta, and one each in B.C. and Nova Scotia.

“It’s such a rarity.”

When it comes to bats, they do not transmit anything through the air that could lead to an infection. People can’t get rabies from bat guano or urine, he said.

“Someone has to be bit by a bat in order for the rabies virus to be transmitted.”

He said if rabies is identified early, it is also treatable.


B.C. man dies of rare viral rabies infection after contact with a bat

Bat that bit person in southern Alberta tests positive for rabies

Nivens said people should not physically interact with bats, but they should still set up bat houses and welcome bats into their backyard. Bats are no more dangerous than birds.

“We’re surrounded by bats. There will be bats in downtown Calgary, and downtown Edmonton, and downtown Red Deer.”

Bats eat insects that make life difficult for humans, he said.

“They keep mosquito populations down. They keep midge populations down. Bats are ubiquitous and they’re really, really important.”

— With files from The Canadian Press

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