NSW Health has issued a warning about the dangers of handling bats given the threat of the deadly Lyssavirus that can be passed on from their bites and scratches.
The warning follows reports that large numbers of bats have died during the recent hot weather and bushfires. NSW Health is also concerned that the recent heat and bushfires have caused injured bats to seek other shelter, prompting people to pick them up or attempt to rescue the animals. There have been two reports of bat bites in the Nowra area.
Dr Jeremy McAnulty, Director of Health Protection NSW, said Lyssavirus is rare in Australia and is only transmitted through bites and scratches from the animal. He advises that people should avoid contact with all bats, as there is always the possibility of being scratched or bitten and this could lead to infection.
“Many people are bitten every year and people should assume that all bats and flying foxes are infectious, regardless of whether the animal looks sick or not,” Dr McAnulty said.
Dr McAnulty said people who have been scratched or bitten by bats run the risk of contracting a Lyssavirus infection that could result in a rabies-like illness, which can be very serious and if not treated may be fatal.
“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 solution to help prevent infection and seek urgent medical advice,” Dr McAnulty said.
If possible the bat should be submitted for laboratory testing, provided this can be done without further risk to humans. Call the Emergency Animal Disease Hotline on 1800 675 888 who can advise what to do.
“If bitten or scratched you may require a series of injections to protect against Lyssavirus infection and the first two need to be given as soon as possible. Your GP or local public health unit can provide advice on treatment,” Dr McAnulty said.
“Only people who have been fully vaccinated against rabies, use protective equipment and have been trained in bat handling should handle bats at all.”
When a bat is injured or in distress from bush fires or being tangled in fence wire or netting, do not attempt to rescue it. Contact the experts at WIRES on 1300 094 737.
For more information about Lyssavirus refer to the Bat Bites and Scratches Fact Sheet