The New York State Department of Health (DOH) is reminding New Yorkers to take the necessary precautions to protect themselves against rabies exposure from stray and wild animals, like bats which, during this time of year, may find their way into people’s homes. Bats are potential carriers of rabies and often spend winters hibernating in the attics and crawlspaces of homes by entering in a variety of ways. In the spring months, they awaken and can potentially become trapped in the home, putting people and pets at risk of being bitten.


“Knowing what to do when a bat enters your home is essential in the prevention of rabies, a devastating disease that can lead to death,” said New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker. “Luckily, through education and the vaccination of pets, it can be easily prevented. I encourage all New Yorkers to take advantage of the resources that the state and counties make available, and understand the basics of rabies prevention to ensure your family is safe this summer.”

If a bat is found inside the home, it is important that New Yorkers do not try to remove it by opening doors or windows, allowing the bat to fly out on its own. Rather, they should attempt to catch it safely using DOH’s guidelines (Video). Once caught, individuals should contact their local health department so that the bat can be tested for rabies at the Rabies Laboratory of DOH’s Wadsworth Center which provides rabies-related laboratory services and testing to all of New York State. 97 percent of bats tested ultimately prove to be negative for rabies. When a bat tests positive, all people and pets who may have come into contact with it will most likely need to receive the rabies vaccine to protect against this deadly disease.

Rabies is a deadly viral disease that attacks the central nervous system and is most often seen among wild animals such as bats, raccoons, skunks and foxes, but any mammal can be infected with rabies. Pets and livestock can get rabies if they are not vaccinated to protect them against infection. Reptiles (such as lizards and snakes), amphibians (like frogs), birds, fish and insects do not get or carry rabies.

The first sign of rabies is usually a change in an animal’s behavior. It may become excited or irritable and attack anything in its path. Staggering, convulsions, choking, frothing at the mouth, unusual sounds and paralysis may also be seen. Animals usually die within one week after showing symptoms.

People are usually exposed to the rabies virus when an infected animal bites them, or if saliva from a rabid animal enters an open cut or mucous membrane (eyes, nose or mouth). If a human becomes infected, flu like symptoms will appear and progress into delirium, abnormal behavior, hallucinations, and insomnia. Once clinical signs of rabies appear, the disease is nearly always fatal, and treatment is typically supportive. Fortunately, only a few human cases are reported each year in the United States because infection can be prevented if treatment is given immediately after exposure to a rabid animal.

The foundation for protecting humans begins with keeping pets up to date on their rabies vaccinations as well as ensuring that all members of the community are educated on rabies prevention, most importantly, knowing to stay away from wild animals, including bats, and stray dogs and cats. All animal bites or exposures to wildlife should be reported to local officials immediately so that rabies vaccination can be started if appropriate.

Related: Bats, rabies, fungi and your home: A few words with Get Bats Out President, Michael Koski

DOH has complied a listing of statewide rabies clinics where New Yorkers can obtain free or low cost rabies vaccinations for their pets. To find a rabies clinics near you, visit: