Warning issued over handling Canberra bats

18 Dec, 2013 05:18 PM
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Bats in the trees at Commonwealth Park near stage 88, in March.
Bats in the trees at Commonwealth Park near stage 88, in March.

Unusually high numbers of people requiring anti-rabies treatment across Australia has prompted an ACT government warning about handling bats.

People picking up bats that appear to be injured can suffer bites or scratches, with the animals potentially carrying Australian Bat Lyssavirus.

Reported injuries commonly occur when people try to free bats from netting over fruit trees or from fencing and other threats.

ACT chief health officer Paul Kelly warned Canberra residents not to handle bats at all, even if they were trapped or injured.

The warning is commonly issued by state and federal health authorities in Australia at this time of year as the virus poses a risk to anyone not trained to handle bats or vaccinated.

The virus was first reported in Australia in 1996, and an eight-year-old Cairns boy became the third person to die in June.

Dr Kelly said, “Australian Bat Lyssavirus is spread by the saliva of infected animals through bites, scratches or licks on broken skin.

‘‘Bats with ABL may appear sick or be unnaturally aggressive but this is not always the case.

‘‘Touching bats or coming into contact with their urine, faeces or blood will not transmit ABL but may expose you to other viruses or bacteria that cause human disease.’’

Dr Kelly said anyone bitten, scratched or licked by a bat should wash the wound or area thoroughly with soap and water for about five minutes.

Antiseptic or alcohol solution should be applied after washing if available.

Saliva in a person’s eyes, nose or mouth should be removed with thorough flushing with water.

Dr Kelly said medical attention should be sought as soon as possible.

“All Australian bats have the potential to carry ABL, which is in the same virus family as rabies and can be fatal in humans, therefore it is recommended that people avoid contact with all bats,” Dr Kelly said.

Symptoms of rabies and ABL include headache, fever, tiredness, tingling, weakness, delirium, convulsions and coma.

The time between exposure and symptoms can range from a number of days to several years in rare instances. An ACT Health warning said it was usually 30 to 90 days after being bitten or scratched by an infected animal.

Anyone who comes across an injured bat should contact the RSPCA ACT on 6287 8113, or call the after hours wildlife rescue officer on 0413 495 031.

SMH

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