Australian bat lyssavirus
Australian bat lyssavirus is found in the saliva of infected animals. The virus can only be spread to other animals and people through the bite or scratch of a flying fox. Australian bat lyssavirus is not spread through flying fox urine or droppings. For more information, see Rabies and Australian bat lyssavirus infection fact sheet.
There is no evidence that people can catch Hendra directly from flying foxes. It is believed that horses catch the Hendra virus when they eat food which has recently been contaminated with an infected flying fox's urine, saliva or birth products.
Hendra virus can be transmitted from infected horses to humans following close contact with body fluids, like blood and saliva, from infected horses. For more information, see Hendra virus fact sheet.
Human infections with these viruses are very rare. In Australia, there have been three confirmed cases of Australian bat lyssavirus in humans. All were in Queensland. There have been seven confirmed cases of Hendra virus in humans, also all in Queensland.
Scratched/Bitten by a flying fox
If anyone is bitten or scratched by a flying fox in Australia the wound should immediately be washed gently but thoroughly with soap and water, an antiseptic, such as povidone-iodine applied, and a doctor consulted as soon as possible to assess the need for further treatment.
Members of the community should not handle flying foxes unless they have been trained, vaccinated against rabies and use the proper protective equipment.
If you find an injured or distressed flying fox, do not attempt to handle it yourself. Call your local wildlife rescue service WIRES on 1300 094737.
Living near flying fox colonies
There are no reports of any infections with Hendra virus or Australian bat lyssavirus among wildlife handlers working with flying foxes or in people living in proximity to flying fox colonies. This suggests that living near a flying fox colony does not pose a significant risk for infection with these viruses.
Direct handling of flying fox droppings should be avoided. The health risks associated with flying fox droppings relate mainly to the small potential risk to humans of gastrointestinal diseases. Flying foxes may carry a range of bacteria in their guts and, similar to domestic pets and birds, their droppings may contaminate the environment and potentially cause illness in humans if swallowed.
Droppings from many animals including flying foxes may end up on roofs. These contaminants can then be washed into rainwater tanks when it rains. Where there is potential contamination of rainwater tanks, the water should not be used for drinking.
The main odour associated with flying foxes is the scent male flying foxes use to mark their territory. While this smell may be offensive to some people, it does not represent a risk to human health.
Schools near flying fox colonies
Schools in close proximity to flying fox colonies should encourage students to stay away from the flying foxes, their droppings and urine. Children should always wash their hands with soap and water after playing outside as a matter of good hygiene.
Pets and flying foxes
Pets should be kept away from flying foxes if possible. If a pet becomes sick after contact with a flying fox, seek advice from a veterinarian.
It can be challenging for people to live near a flying fox colony. However living, playing or walking near flying fox roosting areas does not pose a public health risk unless one is bitten or scratched by a flying fox.
Any concerns relating to the impact of flying foxes on local amenity should be referred to your local Council or the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage by telephoning 1300 361 967.
In NSW you can call 1300 066 055 to talk to your local Public Health Unit.