2017 December - ​Australian Bat Lyssavirus

With the start of the flying fox breeding season, DPI is reminding all veterinary practitioners of the risk of Australian Bat Lyssavirus (ABLV) to people and other animals, including pets.

ABLV has been found in both fruit bats (flying foxes) and in small insect eating bats (microbats). All bat species in Australia are regarded as being potentially infectious. It is estimated that in the wild only about 1% of bats are infected with ABLV. However in bats found injured or sick and showing nervous symptoms such as inability to fly and aggression, up to 30% have been found to be infected.

ABLV is a notifiable disease in any species and there is a legal requirement to notify an authorised officer of all suspected ABLV incidents. Contact the Animal Biosecurity Emergency Hotline on 1800 675 888 or Local Land Services (https://www.lls.nsw.gov.au/contact-us) to report.

DPI has information on ABLV for veterinarians and the public available on its website (https://www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/biosecurity/animal/humans/bat-health-risks). This information includes how to manage cases involving bat-animal interactions. DPI recommends all domestic animals that interact with bats are given post-exposure rabies vaccination following NSW Chief Veterinary Officer approval.

For information about human health and ABLV, call your NSW Health local public health unit on 1300 066 055.

The best protection against being exposed to ABLV is to avoid contact with bats. If live bats must be handled then appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) should be worn and the bat handler must be rabies vaccinated. PPE includes puncture-resistant gloves and gauntlets, long sleeved clothing, safety eyewear or face shield to prevent mucous exposures, and a towel to hold the bat. A garden fork, spade or other implements should be used to handle dead bats. Rabies vaccination is thought to provide cross protection against an ABLV challenge.

Since November 1996, three people have died as a result of ABLV infection. All three cases had a history of scratches or bites from bats and the affected people were not previously vaccinated against rabies. In 2013, two horses were euthanased after being infected with ABLV from bats. Overseas, closely related lyssaviruses cause illness in a wide range of domestic and wild animals. It is possible ABLV infection in other animals may be reported in Australia in the future.