Answers to frequently asked questions about flying foxes and possible impacts on human health.
Flying foxes in Australia are known to carry two infections which can pose a serious risk to human health - Australian bat lyssavirus and Hendra virus. Human infections with these viruses are very rare and when there is no handling or direct contact with flying foxes, there is negligible public health risk.
Australian bat lyssaviruscan only be transmitted to humans when infected flying fox saliva comes into contact with human tissue through an open wound or mucus membrane e.g. eyes, nose and mouth. Therefore it is very important that flying foxes are not handled. Humans are not exposed to the virus if flying foxes fly overhead or feed or roost in gardens. Nor is it spread through droppings or urine, or if one lives, plays or walks near their colonies.
More information on Australian bat lyssavirus is available at Rabies and Australian bat lyssavirus infection fact sheet.
Outbreaks of Hendra virus are rare. To date a small number of horses have become infected with Hendra virus, apparently after contact with flying foxes or their body fluids. There is no indication that humans can catch the virus directly from flying foxes and there are no known cases of direct transmission of infection from flying foxes to people.
More information on Hendra virus is available at Hendra virus fact sheet.
Flying foxes, or fruit bats, are a protected species and play an important ecological role in the pollination of native flowers and the dispersal of natural forest seeds. Any unauthorised attempt to disturb or kill flying foxes is illegal.
If you are bitten or scratched by a flying fox, the wound should immediately be washed gently but thoroughly with soap and water, an antiseptic solution such as povidone-iodine applied, and a doctor consulted as soon as possible to assess the need for further treatment. A vaccine and immunoglobulin can prevent infection if given soon after the bite or scratch.
Unless it is part of your job, 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. Always avoid directly handling any dead flying foxes. If you see a dead flying fox in a public area (road, gutter or local park) you can contact your local Council and ask them to dispose of it.
Teach children to always wash their hands with soap and water after playing outside. It is best to bring children's toys inside or store them under cover before dusk, to avoid flying fox droppings soiling toys.
Vaccination against Australian bat lyssavirus for members of the general community is not seen as a practical or affordable measure. However, individuals wishing to be vaccinated can see their doctor and undertake a course of vaccination over three weeks. There is a significant cost for the vaccination course and is not refundable through Medicare.
Flying foxes have unique odours that help them identify each other. The main odour associated with flying foxes is the scent male flying foxes use to mark their territory and to attract females during the mating season. While this may be offensive in odour, it does not represent a risk to human health.
Urine from a single flying fox is essentially odourless but from a colony it will become more obvious to humans. Flying fox droppings are mostly found where they eat rather than where they sleep. Droppings become more odorous as they decompose.
Droppings from many animals including flying foxes may end up on your roof. These contaminants can be washed into your rainwater tank with rain.
Where rainwater is collected for drinking purposes, it is recommended that first flush diverters are installed to discard contaminants prior to clean water being collected in the tank. Inlets and outlets on rainwater tanks should also be screened and the tank covered with a roof structure.
Rainwater tanks should be periodically de-sludged. Water in the tank can be chlorinated to disinfect it or can be boiled and allowed to cool prior to use.
More information on rainwater tanks at Rainwater tanks.
The water quality in any natural waterway can fluctuate quickly. A creek, stream or river may contain bacteria from many sources that can be harmful to health if the water is consumed.
It is not safe to drink water directly from natural waterways.
Normal pool maintenance practices such as skimming, vacuuming, filtration and chlorination, should remove any contamination associated with wildlife droppings.
If there is a small accumulation of flying fox droppings, it can be cleaned up with soap and water. Safe cleaning of small areas of flying fox droppings includes avoiding creating dust if the droppings are dried. To clean up small areas of moist or dry flying fox droppings on buildings/lawns/other surfaces:
Sandpits should be raked regularly and covered when not in use to avoid contamination from a range of animals.
Further sandpit information can be obtained from Kidsafe NSW Inc. or Child and Youth Health.
Washing that has been soiled with flying fox droppings will need to be rewashed. It is best to bring washing in from an outside clothesline before dusk to avoid flying fox droppings soiling laundry. Alternatively, washing can be dried under covered areas.
Flying foxes use sound as a means of communication. Periods of noise occur mainly at dawn and dusk when the flying foxes arrive at or prepare to leave their camp. Flying fox noise during the day occurs mainly during the mating season in March/April or as a response to disturbances such as dogs, lawn-mowers and loud bangs. Flying fox noise can be minimised by preventing disturbances at their camp sites. Noise also indicates their defence of feeding territory and should cease as soon as the trees in which they are feeding finish flowering or fruiting.
If you feel noise is increasingly causing you stress and anxiety, you may want to contact your local doctor for advice.
Occasionally, cats and dogs catch flying foxes. No cat or dog is known to have contracted Australian bat lyssavirus from a flying fox. The best available evidence suggests that there is no need to vaccinate pets against Australian Bat Lyssavirus.One dog from Queensland has been infected with Hendra virus. It is thought that the infection was probably passed to this dog from a known infected horse, not from a flying fox.
Individual fruit trees can be protected from flying foxes by using netting stretched over a homemade frame. The best type of netting is white thick-knitted netting pulled tight so that flying foxes cannot get trapped or caught underneath it. Dark monofilament netting should preferably not be used. Bagging of individual clumps of fruit with brown paper bags, hessian bags or similar has also proven successful.
People should not consume fruit that has been partly eaten by flying foxes because it is likely to be contaminated with droppings. Fruit covered in flying fox droppings should be washed thoroughly and peeled prior to consumption. If fruit is contaminated with droppings and cannot be peeled, this fruit should not be consumed as there is a small potential risk to humans of gastrointestinal diseases. Flying foxes may carry a range of bacteria in their guts.