Health Warning on Flying Foxes

Date: Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Victorians should not handle flying foxes which may roost in backyard fruit trees, Victoria’s Chief Health Officer, Dr John Carnie, warned today.

“Under no circumstances should people handle flying foxes on their property as some diseases they carry, such as Australian Bat Lyssavirus, are transmissible to humans,” Dr Carnie said.

“Since 1996, a total of nine Victorian flying foxes have been found carrying the virus. The most recent detection was earlier this month in a flying fox found at Bairnsdale. There was no infectious contact with any humans or pets.

“Australian Bat Lyssavirus is a rare, but fatal disease which may be transmitted from flying foxes to humans.

“Domestic pets may also be at risk. The virus is transmitted through being scratched or bitten by a flying fox.

“Although it is known that many flying foxes across Australia carry the virus, instances of transmission to humans are very rare, with only two cases ever having been recorded - both of which were seen in Queensland.

“Australian Bat Lyssavirus is detected from time to time in flying foxes in Victoria, but no human cases have ever occurred here. The disease has never occurred in domestic pets in Victoria.

“Lyssavirus has been found in four species within Australia, including the Grey-headed flying fox,” Dr Carnie said.

Because Australian Bat Lyssavirus infection is a potentially deadly disease, handling of flying foxes should be avoided at all times. Only trained volunteers or workers should be involved in handling flying foxes. Vaccination is recommended for staff or volunteers who regularly handle flying foxes and should be given before starting work with them. Vaccination is free for accredited volunteers.

If anyone encounters a sick or injured flying fox they should not attempt to catch the animal but call the DSE Customer Service Centre on 136 186 for referral to an authorised wildlife carer. If someone is bitten or scratched by a flying fox, they should wash the area with soap and water and on the same day see a medical practitioner for advice.

Vaccination is available for people potentially exposed due to flying fox bites or scratches, but it must be given as soon as possible after exposure.

Further information can also be obtained from the Communicable Disease Prevention and Control Unit on 1300 651 160.

If anyone suspects Lyssavirus disease in a flying fox they may contact the Department of Primary Industries animal disease hotline on 1800 675 888.

General information about Australian Bat Lyssavirus is available on the Better Health Channel at: http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/

Media inquiries

Bram Alexander, Senior Media Advisor (for health, mental health and drugs inquiries)
Telephone: +61 3 9096 8803
Mobile: 0412 260 811
Email: bram.alexander@dhhs.vic.gov.au