Department of Health

Health warning on handling bats

Published by Department of Health & Human Services

Victorians should not handle bats and are advised to call a trained wildlife rescuer if a bat is found in trouble, Victoria's deputy Chief Health Officer, Dr Brett Sutton, warned today.

"Under no circumstances should people touch bats because some diseases they carry, such as Australian Bat Lyssavirus, are transmissible to humans" Dr Sutton said.

"If a person is scratched or bitten by a bat with Australian Bat Lyssavirus and is not treated with vaccine after exposure, it is 100 per cent fatal if symptoms occur.

"Less than 1 per cent of healthy bats carry Australian Bat Lyssavirus. Fourteen bats in Victoria have been diagnosed with lyssavirus since the disease was first recognised in 1996. The most recent detection was in a bat found in the Melbourne suburb of Hawthorn in April.

"Unfortunately, a man trying to assist a distressed animal was bitten. The bat was found to be carrying lyssavirus and the man has received a two week course of rabies vaccine to prevent him developing the disease.

"In Victoria up to three people a week may require post-exposure treatment after being bitten or scratched by a bat. Post exposure treatment is very effective and no one who has received it has ever developed the disease.

"Australian Bat Lyssavirus is a rare, but fatal disease which may be transmitted from bats to humans. Domestic pets may also be at risk. The virus is transmitted through being scratched or bitten by an infected bat.

"Although it is known that many bats across Australia carry the virus, instances of transmission to humans are very rare, with only three human cases which occurred in Queensland. All three cases died from the disease, with the last death in 2013.

"Australian Bat Lyssavirus is detected up to three times a year in bats in Victoria, but no human cases have ever occurred here. The disease has also never occurred in domestic pets in Victoria.

"Lyssavirus has been found in four bat species within Australia, including the Grey-headed flying fox." Dr Sutton said.

"As long as people avoid touching bats, flying fox colonies and fruit bats that forage in eucalypts and fruit trees pose little risk to Victorians."

However, Dr Sutton says unsafe nets on fruit trees are an avoidable cause of human-bat interactions.

"A net that you can poke a finger through is not wildlife safe, as bats can become entangled."

Only trained volunteers or workers who have been vaccinated should ever handle bats. If anyone encounters a sick or injured bat they should not attempt to touch the animal but call Wildlife Victoria on 03 8400 7300 for a wildlife rescuer.

If someone is bitten or scratched by a bat, they should wash the area with soap and water and on the same day see a medical practitioner for advice. Treatment is available but it must be given as soon as possible after being bitten or scratched.

If anyone suspects Lyssavirus disease in a bat they can call DELWP General Enquiries on 136 186 or out of hours they may contact the Emergency Disease Watch Hotline on 1800 675 888.

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

General information about Australian Bat Lyssavirus is available on the Better Health Channel. Further information on safe netting is provided by the Wildlife Victoria website.

Reviewed 10 May 2018


Contact details

Bram Alexander Department of Health Media Unit

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