09 December 2013

NSW Health has issued a warning about the dangers of handling bats with 40 people across NSW treated for bites or scratches by bats over the past month.  

Dr Vicky Sheppeard, Director of Communicable Diseases Branch, said in one case the bat that bit one of those people was later confirmed to have the potentially deadly lyssavirus.

“This highlights the importance of avoiding bat bites and scratches. Lyssavirus infection can result in a rabies-like illness which if not prevented is fatal,” Dr Sheppeard said.

“There have been three human cases of lyssavirus in Australia and all three people affected died, including an 8-year old boy earlier this year in Queensland. 

“People should avoid all contact with bats as there is always the possibility of being scratched or bitten and it leading to infection.

“Although not all bats have lyssavirus , you should always assume that all bats and flying foxes are infectious, regardless of whether the animal looks sick or not.

“Only people who have been fully vaccinated against rabies, use protective equipment, and have been trained in bat handling should touch bats.”

Dr Sheppeard said there are some important steps to follow if you come into contact with a bat.   

“If someone is bitten or scratched by any type of bat they should thoroughly clean the wound for at least five minutes with soap and water as soon as possible, apply an antiseptic such as Betadine, and seek urgent medical advice,” Dr Sheppeard said.

“They may require a series of injections to protect against lyssavirus infection and the first two need to be given as soon as possible.

“It is important you seek advice from your GP or local public health unit regarding treatment.

“Fruit bats have their babies in Spring and they carry those babies with them when they go out to feed. Sometimes the young fall off and are found on the ground.

“Currently there is also reduced native food available so the animals may be found foraging in backyard fruit trees leading to netting entanglements.

“When a bat is injured or tangled in fence wire or netting do not attempt to rescue it. Contact the experts at WIRES on 1300 094 737.”