NSW Health is urging people to avoid contact with bats and flying foxes as they might carry serious diseases following mass die-offs in parts of the state.
NSW Health’s Manager of Enteric and Zoonotic Diseases, Ms Keira Glasgow, said affected areas include south eastern NSW, Shoalhaven, Western Sydney, Hunter New England and northern NSW.
“Most people scratched or bitten by a bat have been trying to rescue them. It is essential that people do not touch bats to avoid being infected,” Ms Glasgow said.
“While human infection is very rare, if not prevented, lyssavirus progresses to a rabies-like illness which is almost always fatal.”
Large numbers of bat deaths usually occur following heat waves, or when they are unable to find enough food. The cause of the current die-offs is unclear, but this issue is likely to continue throughout the coming hot summer.
Australian bat lyssavirus can only be transmitted to humans when infected flying fox saliva comes into contact with human tissue through an open wound or mucus membrane.
There have been three cases of Australian bat lyssavirus in humans in Australia – all were in Queensland in 1996, 1998 and 2013 – and all three people died.
“If you see a bat in distress, injured or on the ground, do not try to rescue it. You may put yourself at risk, and also cause more harm to the bat. Instead, contact the experts at your local licensed wildlife care organisation or local veterinarian,” Ms Glasgow said.
“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 immediately, apply an antiseptic such as Betadine and seek urgent medical advice.”
Contact details for local wildlife care groups can be found at: https://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/wildlife-rehab and an app called “IFAW Wildlife Rescue” can be downloaded from the app store.
If your pet has interacted with a bat, seek prompt assistance from your local veterinary practitioner.
For your Local Public Health Unit, phone 1300 066 055.
For more information, visit: http://www.health.nsw.gov.au/Infectious/factsheets/Pages/rabies-australian-bat-lyssavirus-infection.aspx