Australian bat lyssavirus

Australian bat lyssavirus is a virus found in bats that is similar to the rabies virus. All three cases of bat lyssavirus in Australia have been fatal. 

The virus has been found in both fruit bats and insect eating bats in Australia. 

How it's spread

ABL is usually transmitted to humans via bites or scratches. Injuries causing breaks in the skin allow direct access of the virus in bat saliva to exposed tissue. ABL can also be transmitted through direct saliva contact with mucous membranes (eyes, nose and mouth).

The virus cannot survive more than a few hours outside the bat. Contact such as patting bats or contact with their urine, faeces or blood does not constitute a risk for ABL, however avoiding exposure to them is recommended as bats can carry other micro-organisms that cause human disease. 

Fruit freshly picked from bat infested trees, should be washed thoroughly with soap and water before eating.
There is no risk of ABL infection from eating flying foxes that have been thoroughly cooked.

Who is at risk

Anyone who handles bat is at risk. If you regularly handle or care for bats you should be vaccinated. Routine vaccination is not recommended for other people.

How it is prevented

The best protection is to avoid handling bats. Do not touch or try to rescue bats. 

Anyone who regularly handles or cares for bats (members of bat care groups, wildlife officers, vets etc) should be vaccinated prior to exposure.

Routine vaccination is not recommended for other people.

If you find a sick or injured bat, contact your nearest wildlife rescue service for assistance.

People designated to handle bats should

  • ensure they are vaccinated before handling bats
  • cover any unhealed cuts or wounds 
  • wear puncture proof gloves and long sleeved clothing of thick material and protective glasses
  • avoid handling any new bat in their care for 24 hours and if it displays signs of illness take it to the vet
  • pick up sick bats by wrapping them in thick cloth to reduce the chance of being bitten or scratched
  • take soap and water when rescuing bats so thorough cleaning of bites or scratches occurs as soon as possible.

If you are scratched or bitten

  • wash the wound thoroughly for a minimum of 5 minutes with soap under running water as soon as possible. Proper cleaning of the wound is the most effective way to reduce transmission of the virus. Apply an antiseptic solution after washing if possible (i.e. povidone-iodine)
  • cover the wound and seek medical attention immediately. Vaccination is still protective against ABL if given promptly
  • if you get bat saliva in your mouth, eyes or nose you should flush the area with water
  • even if already vaccinated, medical attention should be sought as soon as possible for further (treatment) vaccine
  • if the bat is available (dead or alive) and without putting yourself at any further risk of sustaining an injury, place it in a box and contact the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) in your area to arrange testing of the bat. It may reduce the length of your treatment.

Symptoms in a sick bat

Not all bats with the virus have symptoms, but a sick bat may do any of the following:

  • have muscular weakness such as wing or limb paralysis
  • difficulty or inability to fly
  • unusually docile or unusually aggressive
  • attach themselves relentlessly to human's hands or head
  • depressed and unresponsive
  • unusally active during the day.

Any bats with these symptoms should be reported to your nearest wildlife rescue service.

Disposal of dead bats

If the bat had any of the above symptoms your nearest wildlife rescue service should be contacted for appropriate disposal of the body.

Other bats may be disposed of by placing them in a bag and burying them.

Although ABL is not thought to live long in a dead bat, precautions should be taken to avoid being scratched when disposing of the body.

For more information contact your nearest Centre for Disease Control.

Last updated: 27 June 2017