Residents in the Southern NSW regions are being reminded to avoid handling or touching an injured or distressed bat as they may carry the fatal disease, lyssavirus.
This summer a greater number of people than usual have required vaccination and post-exposure treatment for lyssavirus, after exposure to bats.
Director of Public Health, Southern NSW Local Health District, Ms Alison Nikitas says if you find an injured bat, do not attempt to handle it yourself.
“Lyssavirus can be transmitted from bats to humans through infected saliva from a bite or scratch and can easily be contracted through breaks in the skin,” says Ms Nikitas.
A close relative to the rabies virus, lyssavirus has been found in species of flying foxes/fruit bats and insect-eating microbats. It is assumed that any bat in Australia could potentially carry lyssavirus.
Ms Nikitas warns that a bat can be infectious without showing visible signs of sickness.
“The best way to protect yourself from infection is to leave the handling of the animal to the trained experts. Call your local wildlife rescue group or local veterinarian who can help care for the animal,” says Ms Nikitas.
Bats are more active in the summer period and large numbers of bats sometimes die following prolonged exposure to heat, or when they are unable to find enough food.
If you or someone you know has been bitten or scratched by a bat immediately wash the wound with soap and water for at least fifteen minutes.
An antiseptic solution with anti-virus action should be applied after washing, and a doctor consulted for further treatment and advice as soon as possible.
NSW Public Health Units will work with your doctor to assess your risk and where indicated, will arrange for rabies post-exposure treatment to be delivered to your GP or hospital. The post exposure treatment is crucial for people bitten or scratched by bats because there is no effective treatment once the symptoms of Australian bat lyssavirus commence.
You should never attempt to assist or handle bats unless vaccinated against rabies, trained, and wearing protective equipment. In the event of an extreme heat stress or starvation event affecting bat populations, people should follow the directions given by wildlife rescue coordinators.