GPs have been instructed to consider a rabies injection for any UK patient exposed to bats, after the find of dead rabid bat in England.
The note from Public Health England said the European Bat Lyssavirus 1 was detected in a dead serotine bat found in Dorset, and that it was the first time this particular virus has ever been confirmed in the UK.
According to the notice, the bat rabies virus is ‘related to the classical rabies virus and can lead to clinical rabies in humans’.
It went onto advise that ‘any person exposed to any type of bat in the UK should receive a prompt risk assessment and may require post-exposure treatment with rabies vaccine’.
Regarding the risk level, PHE said the ‘risk of catching rabies from a bat is very low’. But it added that in 2002, a man died from rabies acquired in the UK from a bat. He had been infected with the EBLV-2 virus, which has previously been detected in Daubenton’s bats in the UK.
Although the EBLV-1 virus has never before been detected in the UK, ‘two cases of human rabies caused by EBLV-1 have been reported elsewhere in Europe’, the note added.
The notice concluded: ‘Bat bites in the UK are felt rather than seen and may not bleed or leave an obvious mark on the skin. Infected bats may not show signs of illness, and therefore all bats (whatever species) should be considered a potential risk of rabies.
‘Any person exposed to any type of bat in the UK should receive a prompt risk assessment and may require post-exposure treatment with rabies vaccine.
‘PHE’s Rabies and Immunoglobulin Service (RIgS) has received reports of patients who have been bitten by bats in the UK not receiving appropriate risk assessment and post-exposure treatment. Therefore it is important for health professionals to be aware of the risks of rabies following contact with any bat.’
A PHE spokesperson told Pulse: ‘The risk of catching rabies from bats in the UK is very low, with the last human case of rabies contracted from bats in 2002. Rabies has not been found in pipistrelles – the type of bat most commonly found in UK homes.
‘As many people will not know what type of bat they’ve been in contact with, we provide rabies vaccine to people who have been bitten by any type of bat in the UK as a precautionary measure. PHE treats around 150 people every year who have been bitten by a bat in England.’
In a note sent to all GP practices across the East of England, Lucianne Lambourne, senior health protection practitioner in the Health Protection Team of PHE East of England, said: ‘Please raise awareness amongst your colleagues of this incident and the required follow up for humans with exposures to any bats as outlined in the briefing note.’