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