I want to build a couple of bat boxes for my cottage property, but I’m concerned about the many viruses that bats can carry. Are the bats in Canada as virus-ridden as others around the world?
No. “The risk of getting any disease from bats in Canada is very, very low,” says Vikram Misra, a professor of veterinary microbiology at the University of Saskatchewan who has studied disease in Canadian bat populations. “And despite the fact that some very nasty diseases have emerged in certain parts of the world, those events are extremely rare.” Thanks to vampire lore, Halloween decorations, and the movie Contagion, bats have developed a bad rap, but you’re more likely to get hurt building the bat boxes. Bats rarely bite people. And even if they do, the risk of being infected with anything, including rabies, is remote. “The vast majority of bats are not rabid,” says Dianne Odegard, the public information and training coordinator for Bat Conservation International. As for other bat-borne viruses in foreign parts—for example, SARS—they’re usually first transmitted to another animal, and then to humans. (One exception is the Nipah virus in Bangladesh; humans become ill after eating date palm sap that has been contaminated by fruit bats.) “There’s very little to be concerned about when sharing our environment with bats,” says Odegard.
Still, use common sense: Building a bat house is a great idea; picking up bats, handling their feces, or venturing into known bat caves is not. And if you go to Bangladesh, avoid the date palm sap.