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Staying safe around bats - disease risks, precautions to take and first aid following contact with bats
Bats, including flying foxes, are native throughout Australia and play an important role in the ecosystem.
Grey-headed Flying-Foxes and other bat species can carry a rabies-type infection called Australian bat lyssavirus.
People should not touch bats unless properly trained and vaccinated. Any contact with bats requires urgent medical attention.
Australian bat lyssavirus is a rabies like virus transmitted from bats to humans. Infection with the virus is invariably fatal. There have been three cases in Australia since 1996, all of which were fatal. The last case occurred in Queensland in 2013.
The virus is spread commonly through a bite or scratch, but also through exposure to bat saliva through the eyes, nose or mouth. If treatment is delayed until after the onset of the symptoms, there is no known cure and the condition is fatal.
Bats must only be handled by an appropriately trained and vaccinated person.
Infected bats may not show any symptoms of illness.
People who come across a dead, sick or injured bat must not touch the bat and should contact Fauna Rescue’s 24-hour Helpline on 8486 1139 to arrange for removal of the bat.
Special care should be taken to educate children in regard to health risks associated with bats.
Children should be advised that they must not touch living, injured or dead bats and that they must immediately tell an adult if they are bitten or scratched by a bat.
Regardless of previous vaccination status, if bitten or scratched bat handlers must seek medical attention immediately.
Bat handlers should be vaccinated against rabies and tetanus. See Occupations at risk of vaccine preventable diseases for more information.
Hendra virus is thought to be passed from bats to horses following ingestion of matter contaminated by bat urine, saliva or birth products. Human fatalities have been reported following exposure to respiratory secretions or blood from infected horses.
Direct bat-to-human transmission (or human-to-human transmission) has not been known to occur.
Within South Australia, there have been no reported cases of Hendra virus infection in humans or horses although it has been detected in bats.
Menangle virus was first detected in New South Wales in 1997 in a piggery. It is thought that the virus was spread to pigs from exposure to infected faeces from a nearby colony of flying foxes. Two workers at the piggery tested positive to Menangle virus after contracting a flu-like illness. There have been no further cases of Menangle virus infection in animals or humans.
Within South Australia, all species of bats are protected under the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1972. Whilst bats play an important role in the ecosystem, they are also associated with illness in humans and other animals.
Members of the public are urged not to touch or handle bats. It is important to apply preventative and first aid measures to safeguard against the serious health risks associated with bats, including seeking immediate medical attention in the event of coming into contact with bats.
For further information contact the following: