Health Risks of Bats at Camp

Camps are usually located in areas that offer prime habitats for bats and other wildlife. Also, the construction characteristics of camp buildings offer protected roosting environments for bats.

Some camps have received warnings from local or state health departments about risks of rabies. Raising awareness about bats and rabies can help protect your staff, campers and guests.

How rabies is transmitted   

Rabies, associated with bats, raccoons, skunks and other animals, is a viral infection transmitted in the saliva of the infected animal. Once contracted, the virus can be fatal. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 29.1% of the total number of cases involving wildlife rabies in 2014 in the United States were from bats. In comparison, raccoons were 30.2%, skunks 26.3%, and foxes 5.2%.

Transmission of the rabies virus can occur from minor or unrecognized bites from bats since their teeth marks are very small.

The CDC recommends the rabies vaccine for all persons with a bite, scratch, or mucous membrane exposure to a bat, unless the bat is available for testing and test results show it does not contain evidence of rabies.

How to manage human exposure to bats

The main issue is to keep bats out of sleeping areas. The CDC offers bat safety tips in their publication Bats - Safety and Risk Management at Camp. Here are some key suggestions:

  • Management should obtain training on rabies and its related risks.
    • Rabies disease information should be provided by camp management to all camp staff and campers at orientation sessions.
  • To be safe, never handle a bat. Bats infected with rabies are often mistaken for injured animals when they are found flopping around on the ground or floor. Health officials say you can''t tell if a bat has rabies just by looking at it. Rabies can only be confirmed by having the animal tested in a laboratory. All contact with bats should be reported to the camp doctor/nurse for their review.

Two recommendations to reduce exposure to bats involving living areas are to: (1) bat-proof buildings when possible, and (2) use mosquito netting over beds.

1. Bat-proofing camp structures

Camp directors and maintenance should inspect buildings every spring and periodically thereafter:

  • Bat-proof only in the winter or early spring (from first frost to first thaw in cold climates) because most bats leave in the fall and winter to hibernate elsewhere. This practice prevents young bats, who are unable to fly, from being trapped inside a structure.
  • Inspect attic spaces, rafters, porches, and walls for signs of roosting bats. Signs includes bat feces, urine, or a musty odor.
  • Look for tiny entry spaces. Bats have the ability to squeeze through small openings, so look for areas through which bats can enter buildings through openings larger than 1/2" by 1/2" and long thin slots larger than 1/4" by 2" Exit/entry openings should be permanently sealed with caulk, steel wood, or mesh hardware cloth.
  • Close a building down. Do not allow any building that shows evidence of bats to be used as sleeping/eating/recreational quarters until they have been properly bat-proofed and cleaned up.
  • Block bats from getting back in. If during the camping season you notice bats within a building, observe where they exit at dusk and exclude them from reentering by loosely hanging clear plastic or bird netting over exit/entry openings (see diagram). This method allows bats to crawl out and leave, but restricts them from re-entering. After bats have been excluded from the structure, their exit/entry openings should be permanently sealed with caulk, steel wood, or mesh hardware cloth.
  • Keep window/door screens in good condition. Don''t leave screen doors open, and make sure they close tightly on their own. 

2. How mosquito netting can help limit bat exposure

Netting installed over individual beds/bunks is recommended when a building cannot be bat-proofed or (due to its design) it''s open to the elements. When installed correctly around a bed/bunk, mosquito netting will help reduce exposure while sleeping to annoying bugs, mosquitoes and bats.

Netting should be:

  • Elevated above the sleeping area and cover the length and width of the mattress. Use support poles or suspend netting from above with cords.
  • Tuck excess netting under each side of the mattress to restrict access along those areas.
  • Inspected netting on a regular basis to make sure it fits properly and is free of holes/rips.
  • At the end of the camp season, store netting in rodent-proof containers to prevent holes during the off-season.

More ideas for bat-proofing and best practices

For information on bat-proofing a structure to exclude bats from a building, learn more from Bat Conservation International. The BCI also advocates installing bat houses in nearby areas as replacement roosts. Keeping bats in the vicinity of their former roosts allows people to continue to take advantage of their important insect eating services, and may prevent bats from moving and roosting in another camp/conference center building.

The presence and sighting of bats outdoors in camp situations is common and normal. Most bats are not rabid. Rabies in humans is rare in the United States&mdash there are usually 1-2 human cases per year. Precautions such as avoiding intentional contact with bats, closing openings, and using screens or mosquito netting are good safety practices to help prevent exposure to rabies.

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