Protected wild bats are to be caught under special licence in Britain and shipped to Germany for research into the spread of rabies, government conservation agency English Nature said on Monday.
Scientists have been granted permission to catch 50 Daubenton's bats for a study into how the European Bat Lyssavirus (EBLV) Type 2 strain of the invariably fatal disease is incubated in and transmitted by the creatures.
The bats will be exposed to the virus, which can be passed on to humans through saliva in the bite of an infected animal, monitored and then "humanely euthanised" to allow their organs and tissue to be analysed.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said about three percent of the 150,000 or so Daubenton's bats in Britain are "seropositive", suggesting they have been exposed to the virus and could transmit it.
"Of particular concern is the public health aspect, where it could be found that a healthy Daubenton's bat may be infected wtih EBLV-2 and be capable of transmitting the disease without showing signs of rabies," a spokesman said.
"Research is therefore required to provide scienitific evidence to support the current policy on bat rabies and in order to give clear unequivocal advice to bat handlers and the general public on any risks to which they might become exposed to when coming into direct contact with bats."
In 2002, a bat-handler in Scotland died from infection with EBLV-2, although the risk of transmission among the general public is considered very low.
Britain prides itself of its rabies-free status, mainly due to its strict quarantine laws and pet travel scheme. But cases do occur, with most human infections being picked up overseas and in quarantined animals.
The last human death from rabies contracted here was in 1902 while the last case in a land animal was in 1922.
The World Health Organisation estimates that between 40,000 and 70,000 people die from rabies each year, with most in south and southeast Asia.