In late September 2016, the Scientific Institute of Public Health ( ISP ) confirmed the diagnosis of rabies in a bat of the species (Eptesicus serotinus), according to a press release in October (computer translated).

Belgium map/CIA
Belgium map/CIA

This was discovered by a foreign tourist on the territory of the town of Bertrix. The animal being unable to fly, scientists quickly suspected a case of rabies. Upon confirmation of the diagnosis, a post-exposure vaccine treatment was given to the walker who had been bitten on the thumb. With treatment, his life was never in danger .

Rabies is a zoonosis – an animal disease capable of infecting humans – mainly affecting dogs and some wild carnivores such as foxes or raccoons. The only known zoonotic disease associated with bats in Belgium is the ‘European Bat lyssavirus‘, a virus similar to the classical rabies carnivores, including the ISP performs monitoring for several decades. Then he had occasionally been identified in a small number of bats in our neighboring countries (France, Netherlands, Germany, the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg).  The diagnosis made by the ISP is the first confirmation of the presence of the virus in Belgium.

All strictly protected European species of bats are not a threat to public and veterinary health. Moreover, bats never try to approach humans, and only one infected animal can transmit rabies to humans only if bitten, from scratch, or if its saliva comes in contact with a wound.

You should never handle bats with bare hands, much less if it appears sick. If bitten, a GP should be consulted immediately.

LISTEN: Rabies: A comprehensive interview with Pamela Wilson

No cases of human rabies have been reported in Western Europe since the 1930s, rabies is essentially an imported disease. In Belgium the last indigenous case of rabies in humans predates 1930.

Belgium was declared free of rabies by WHO in 2001, after an intensive campaign of oral vaccination of the fox who was the reservoir and vector disease from 1966 to 1999. Since the elimination of fox rabies, Belgium has had only two imported cases of canine rabies in 2007 and 2008. Thanks to intensive surveillance, Belgium regained its status indemnity six months after each incident.