Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Management of vampire bats and rabies: Past, present, and future

April 25, 2023

Rabies virus transmitted via the bite of common vampire bats (Desmodus rotundus) has surpassed canine-associated cases as the predominant cause of human rabies in Latin America. Cattle, the preferred prey of D. rotundus, suffer extensive mortality from vampire bat associated rabies, with annual financial losses estimated in the tens of millions of dollars. Organized attempts to manage or curtail vampire bat populations and rabies virus transmission have been conducted since the early 1900s, when vampire bat-associated rabies cases in humans and livestock were first recognized. However, these attempts largely failed, as the distribution of vampire bat populations expanded geographically with the intensification of livestock production, and the incidence of vampire bat rabies (VBR) increased. Current methods of control rely primarily on culling vampire bat populations using poisons (vampiricides) that are transferred from bat to bat after topical application. Despite widespread use of vampiricides for the last 50 years, little evidence exists to demonstrate their effectiveness in reducing the incidence of VBR. Culling may further result in dispersion of bats, which could have an unintended consequence of spreading VBR. New methods to manage VBR are being developed or considered, including topical rabies vaccine that transfer among bats, much like vampiricides or a transmissible vaccine that would spread naturally among bats. Vaccination of vampire bats against rabies could lower the incidence of VBR and prevent viral transmission to cattle and humans without the animal welfare concerns and potential negative effects of culling. However, this approach would not deter vampire bat bites, and some form of population reduction (e.g., fertility control) would likely also be needed. An integrated strategy to reduce both the incidence of VBR and the abundance of vampire bats would be ideal for protecting both human and animal health.

Publication Year 2023
Title Management of vampire bats and rabies: Past, present, and future
DOI 10.1007/978-3-031-25052-1_8
Authors Tonie E. Rocke, Daniel G. Streicker, Ariel Elizabeth Leon
Publication Type Book Chapter
Publication Subtype Book Chapter
Index ID 70243166
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization National Wildlife Health Center