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Home Topics Infectious Diseases Infections A-Z Rabies General Information European Bat Lyssavirus: Frequently Asked Questions

European Bat Lyssavirus: Frequently Asked Questions

What is European Bat Lyssavirus (EBLV)?

European Bat Lyssavirus (EBLV) is a rabies-like virus, which infects insectivorous bats in Europe. It comes from the same family of viruses as rabies, but is a different strain. There are two subtypes of EBLV designated 1 and 2.

How common is EBLV in UK Bats?

To date there have been just nine confirmed cases of EBLV-2 infection in bats which have been identified by the UK Veterinary Laboratories Agency through routine testing.  These include one in Newhaven in 1996, two in Lancashire in 2002 and 2003, one in Surrey in 2004, one in Oxfordshire in 2006, one in Shropshire in 2007, two in 2008 (Surrey and Shropshire), and one in Scotland in 2009.

Is this the same rabies that infects dogs in some parts of the world?

No, EBLV is a different strain of rabies virus from that which causes 'classical' rabies in dogs and many other domestic and wild animals. For further information on 'classical' rabies see Rabies: Frequently asked questions

Can EBLVs infect other animals apart from bats?

It is very rare for EBLVs to cross the 'species barrier'; this means that even if bats are known to be carrying the virus within a country or region, it is rare for other animals to be infected. On several occasions EBLV-1 has infected other animals;  five sheep in Denmark, a stone marten in Germany, and two cats in France.

Can EBLVs infect humans?

Since 1977,only four human cases have reported across Europe [external link] – one in Finland, two in the former Soviet Union, and one in Scotland in 2002 – despite over 800 cases in bats in 13 countries. All four have been in people who had been in close contact with bats and had not received treatment after their exposure. Anybody who is exposed to EBLs but given prompt protective treatment will not develop the infection.

How are EBLVs transmitted to humans or other animals?

People are not at risk from being in the same room as an infected bat. Close contact is required. EBLs can be transmitted:

  • by a bite or scratch from an infected bat,
  • or if saliva or nerve tissue from an infected bat get into a patient's eye, comes into contact with mucous membranes, such as the lining of the mouth or nose, or with broken skin.

Anyone who has been exposed to the saliva or nervous tissue of a bat or has been scratched or bitten by a bat should seek immediate medical attention, as with any animal bite.

Who is at risk from EBLVs in the UK?

People are not at any risk from EBLs unless they have been in close contact with an infected bat. It is therefore only those who are involved in handling bats, such as licensed or voluntary bat handlers, who are at any potential risk, and even then only if they have been exposed to the saliva or nervous tissue of an infected bat or have been bitten or scratched.

Current Department of Health guidance recommends that rabies immunisation should be offered to those involved in handling bats. This will offer effective protection against EBLVs.

How can EBLV in humans be prevented?

Anyone finding a sick or ailing bat should not approach or handle it but seek advice from a conservation group or the Bat Conservation Trust Helpline on 0845 1300 228.

EBLV can be prevented by:

  • Offering and recommending rabies vaccine to all those who handle bats regularly, for example as licensed or voluntary bat handlers
  • Offering immunisation and immunoglobulin (a special preparation of antibodies) to anyone who has been exposed to the virus. Immunisation can still be of benefit even if given after a bite or other exposure, but should be given as soon as possible.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms of EBLV infection in humans are the same as for rabies. It is a very serious infection which affects the brain. Initial symptoms can include anxiety, headaches and fever; later the effects of the encephalitis (brain infection) intensify. There are spasms of the swallowing muscles making it difficult or impossible for patients to drink (hydrophobia) followed by respiratory failure.

Once EBL infection has become symptomatic, there is no specific treatment and all three past human cases have been fatal.

That is why it is so important for those who handle bats to be immunised; and for anyone who has been bitten by a bat to seek medical attention urgently so that they can be offered immunoglobulin and immunisation.

More information

Defra website -  Government Vet Journal 2008 "Risk assessing a rabid bat bite" (paper on the Shropshire EBLV2 incident in 2007) [external link]

Defra website - bat research [external link]

Defra website - rabies section [external link]

Scottish Natural Heritage - Bat Lyssavirus monitoring results 3 July 2009 [external link]


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