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Wednesday, 2 October, 2002, 09:42 GMT 10:42 UK
Warning over rabid bats
Daubenton's bat (credit BCT/J J Kaczanow)
The Daubenton's bat (picture BCT/J J Kaczanow)
Bats in the UK may be carrying a strain of rabies which can affect humans, the government has warned.

The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said tests carried out on a bat from Lancashire revealed the presence of the rabies strain European Bat Lyssavirus 2 (EBL 2) which in rare cases can be harmful to humans.


There is more risk of being killed by a bee sting or a disease from one of your pets than coming across bats and rabies

Amy Coyte, Bat Conservation Trust

The Daubenton's bat was sent to the Veterinary Laboratories Agency in Weybridge, Surrey, to be analysed after it bit a woman on the hand in Lancashire on September 11.

The woman, a bat conservationist, has been examined by infectious disease specialists but did not appear to be suffering from any rabies symptoms.

She was given a rabies vaccine as a precaution and was treated in hospital.

A statement from Defra said: "Presence of EBL 2 in a bat may indicate that the disease is present at a very low level in United Kingdom bats.

"Defra is continuing to investigate this case and will undertake further surveillance to try and establish presence of EBL 2 and its related virus EBL 1."

Monitoring

The incident is only the second known case of this strain of rabies being found in Britain.

In June 1996, two women were bitten on the hand by a bat carrying the strain.

Joint chief executive of the Bat Conservation Trust, Amy Coyte, told BBC Online that it was widely known that some European bats carried the virus and so the UK bat population was regularly monitored.

"People live in Europe with these bats quite happily because they are aware of EBL and take the proper precautions," she said.

"The Bat Conservation Trust are very vigilant and work so that people and bats can live in harmony together."

She said that a case of someone being bitten by a rabid bat was very, very rare.

"There is more risk of being killed by a bee sting or a disease from one of your pets than coming across bats and rabies," she said.

Humans are also less likely to come into contact with the Daubenton's bat as it mainly roosts in trees and by rivers, not people's houses, she added.

European cases

Transmission of the disease to humans is rare but the Bat Conservation Trust and the government urge people who find sick or injured bats not to approach or handle them but to seek advice from a local bat conservation group.

EBL strains are closely related to the classical rabies virus.

They have been known to infect not only the primary hosts (insectivorous bats) but on very rare occasions other animal hosts and human beings.

Between 1977 and 2000, tests on dead bats confirmed 630 EBL cases in Europe, mainly in Denmark, the Netherlands and Germany.


Click here to go to Lancashire
See also:

25 Oct 02 | Science/Nature
28 Sep 02 | England
05 Apr 00 | Americas
07 Mar 00 | Health
21 May 99 | Health
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