While skunks were once Illinois’ primary rabies carrier, with more than four times more skunks testing positive than bats between 1971 and 2004, bats are now the state’s number one rabies reservoir (IDPH 2004). In fact, during the 11-year period from 2000 to 2011, 703 bats tested positive in the state, while only 10 non-bats (i.e., 6 skunks, 2 cattle, 1 fox and 1 horse) were confirmed infected (Figure 1). This means that more than 98 percent of the animals that tested positive for rabies in Illinois in the past decade were bats. For this reason, public health outreach and policy development with the goal of preventing human rabies deaths has increasingly focused on bats. In addition to the frequency with which bats test positive for rabies, bats are also of particular concern because their small teeth create the possibility that a sleeping or incapacitated person may be bitten without realizing it.
Out of the domestically acquired human rabies cases from bat-variant rabies between 2001 and 2011, 60 percent were covert infections, or cases where the bite was not felt (Blanton et al 2011).
If someone was asleep in a room with a bat, the possibility of a bite cannot be ruled out.
In one such case, a man awoke in a motel room with a bat clinging to his pajamas. He flung the bat off and checked his skin carefully. Since he observed no bite or other mark, he assumed he wasn’t bitten. However, he indeed had been, since he died of bat-variant rabies weeks later.