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Health warning to avoid contact with bats and flying foxes

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.

Southern NSW Health’s Director of Public Health Mrs Tracey Oakman, said affected areas

include the Eurobodalla and south coast.

“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,” Mrs Oakman 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,” Mrs Oakman 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.” Eurobodalla Council’s flying fox officer Natalie Foster collected 75 dead pups from the Batemans Bay Water Gardens flying fox camp. She said it was likely the crèched pups had been abandoned as adults dispersed in search of food.

“It’s not only here,” Ms Foster said.

“It seems drought, and potentially fire, are impacting flying foxes across the state, with reports of large numbers of dead and fallen flying foxes, mainly pups, from Bega Valley, Shoalhaven, Parramatta and the Hunter,” Ms Foster said.

“In our shire, we’re getting reports of the bats foraging in back yards and even roosting there, in ones and twos. That’s consistent with how flying foxes behave during periods of food shortage.”

Ms Foster said the struggling animals were essential to the environmental health of the region.

“Flying foxes are our night-time pollinators and without this keystone species some eucalypt species may not get pollinated,” she said.

“We’re seeing many of our native animals struggling with food shortages and the increasing loss of habitat continues to be a problem for many species.”

Eurobodalla Councils manager of environmental services Deb Lenson said members of the public should not handle sick or dying bats.

“Report sick flying foxes to wildlife protections groups,” Ms Lenson said.

“The bats have been known to carry lyssavirus, which can be transmitted to humans when infected flying fox saliva comes in contact with open wounds or mucus membranes like our eyes, nose or mouth.”

Ms Lenson said there was no risk of exposure to lyssavirus when flying foxes fly overhead or feed/roost in gardens, “lyssavirus is not spread through droppings or urine and you won’t contract it by being near flying foxes”.

“To dispose of dead flying foxes, wear heavy-duty gloves to transfer the animal into your red-lid bin. Or contact Council on 4474 1000 if they are on Council-managed land,” she said.

For more information on flying foxes in Eurobodalla, including the shire’s Flying Fox Management Plan, visit www.esc.nsw.gov.au/flyingfoxes.

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

Photo Nathan Hogarth

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