Bat At Indiana Pacers Game: Who Should Worry About Rabies (Be aware of rabies and bats)


By Bruce Y. Lee, Forbes

There was a bat at an NBA basketball game last Thursday. No, none of the Indiana Pacers or Los Angeles Clippers players forgot what sport they were playing. It wasn’t a baseball bat that flew around the court in Indianapolis, Indiana. Instead, it was a mammal bat.

This FOX Sports Indiana segment showed what happened:

Holy quick-thinking Bankers Life Fieldhouse stadium announcers! Was that the theme song to the 1960’s Batman television series playing in the background? Indeed it was.

For a moment, the FOX Sports announcers thought that it might have been a bird at the game. Not Larry Bird or Sue Bird, but a bird bird. But anytime you see a winged creature, it’s important to know the birds and the bats.

That because bats may carry the rabies virus. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 6% of bats can have rabies, and 90% of human rabies cases in the United States (about one or two per year) result from bats. Bat bites are the most common mode of transmission for rabies. Bats can carry the rabies virus in their saliva so any contact between bat saliva and your blood or your mucous membranes like your eyes, nose, or mouth can transmit the virus to you. This is yet another reason you should never kiss a bat or share contact lenses and Q-tips with one.

Rabies is a bad disease to get. Once the symptoms of rabies appear, the disease is nearly 100% fatal, and death tends to be a bad thing. Initial symptoms are like having the flu. Eventually, they progress to signs of brain dysfunction, such as anxiety, confusion, agitation, excessive salivation, fear of water, abnormal behavior, hallucinations, insomnia, and partial paralysis.

When you’ve had a close encounter with a bat, the challenge is that you don’t always know if you have been bitten. It’s not as if the bat will say, “I am going to bite you now,” or leave a note that states, “sorry for the bite, no hard feelings, XOXO.” The bite can be quick and barely detectable. If there is any chance that a bat has touched your body, play it safe and consult your doctor. He or she can then discuss with you whether rabies immune globulin and a series of rabies shots (four injections over 14 days) are necessary. Again, the key is to get this treatment before symptoms appear.

Since most bats don’t have rabies, contact your local public health or animal control officials as well. Maybe they can help catch the bat and test the bat for rabies.

If you attended the game and the bat may have touched your skin or mucous membranes, follow the Indiana State Health Department’s advice to contact them or your doctor as soon as possible. If you simply saw the bat on TV, then, no, you are not at risk for rabies. You are quite unlikely to get an infectious disease through a TV screen unless, of course, you lick the screen.

Follow me on Twitter @bruce_y_lee and visit our Global Obesity Prevention Center (GOPC) at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Read my other Forbes pieces here.