Over the past month, 32 people required rabies post
exposure prophylaxis (PEP) following high-risk exposures to potentially
infected animals. Five of the people had reported local bat exposures while the
remaining 27 people had animal bites or scratches while travelling overseas.
Dr Vicky Sheppeard, Director of Communicable
Diseases Branch, said NSW Health is concerned that as we come into the bat
birthing season (October and November), young and miscarried pups may be on the
ground, prompting people to pick them up or attempt to rescue them.
“So far this year we have had three people who were
bitten or scratched by bats that were later confirmed to have had the
potentially deadly lyssavirus,” Dr Sheppeard said.
“This highlights the importance of avoiding bat
bites and scratches. Lyssavirus infection can result in a rabies-like illness
which is very serious and, if not prevented, is fatal.
“There have been three human cases of lyssavirus in
Australia (all were in Queensland) and all three people died.”
Dr Sheppeard said the best protection against being
exposed to deadly lyssaviruses is to avoid handling any bat in Australia, and
any wild or domestic mammal in a rabies-endemic country. This includes bats and
wild or domestic dogs, cats, and monkeys.
“People should avoid all contact with bats as there
is always the possibility of being scratched or bitten and it leading to
infection. You should always assume that all bats and flying foxes are
infectious, regardless of whether the animal looks sick or not,” she
“Only people who have been fully vaccinated against
rabies, use protective equipment and have been trained in bat handling should
“When a bat is injured or in distress, do not
attempt to rescue it. Contact the experts at WIRES on 1300 094 737.
“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.
“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.”
For more information, visit: http://www.health.nsw.gov.au/Infectious/factsheets/Pages/Rabies-Australian-Bat-Lyssavirus-Infection.aspx
For your Local Public Health Unit, phone 1300