Deadly virus found in South Australian bats

08 April 2021

People heading outdoors are reminded to avoid any contact with bats, after it was confirmed that two recent exposures in South Australia last month involved bats carrying Australian Bat Lyssavirus (ABL).

The Department for Health and Wellbeing’s Communicable Disease Control Branch Director, Dr Louise Flood, said the latest exposures were the third time in SA that ABL had been confirmed in bats, with the first detected in 2012.

“ABL is a rabies-like disease that can be transmitted to humans if they are bitten or scratched by an infected bat and if treatment is delayed until after the onset of symptoms, the condition is invariably fatal,” Dr Flood said.

“While only one per cent of bats usually carry ABL, these two recent exposures are concerning and is an important reminder that bats should only ever be handled by appropriately trained and vaccinated animal handlers.

“While the development of ABL from bat bites or scratches can be prevented through prompt wound management and post exposure prophylaxis, it is important to avoid contact in the first place.”

The Department of Primary Industries and Regions (PIRSA) Chief Veterinary Officer, Dr Mary Carr, said exposure to ABL from bats is also a concern for other animals as well as humans, and pet owners should ensure their animals also avoid any contact with bats.

“If you notice bats around your home, ensure your animal is physically separated from them by either relocating the pet either indoors or elsewhere until the bat is gone,” Dr Carr said.

“If you suspect your animal has been either bitten or scratched by a bat please contact your local vet or the Emergency Animal Disease hotline on 1800 675 888.”

In 2020 there were nine bat-human exposures in SA that required precautionary treatment, including rabies vaccine and rabies immunoglobulin and eight have required treatment in 2021.

If you are bitten or scratched by a bat, or come into contact with bat saliva, you should take immediate action by:

  • Cleaning the area with soap and water for at least five minutes
  • Applying antiseptic such as povidone-iodine
  • Contacting a doctor or hospital emergency department and commencing a course of post-exposure prophylaxis if necessary

If you do come across a bat that appears to be dead, injured or in distress, contact the Fauna Rescue SA bat helpline on 8486 1139 or Bat Rescue SA on 0475 132 093.