Health authorities warn of deadly disease risk
WITH the start of the local bat breeding season, NSW Health is urging people to avoid contact with bats that could carry deadly diseases.
Communicable diseases branch director Dr Vicky Sheppeard said 142 NSW residents have been given rabies post-exposure treatment this year, after being bitten or scratched by a bat.
Acting director of public health, Greg Bell, said of the 142 cases, 13 people were treated in Northern NSW for local exposure, and another eight for exposure which occurred overseas.
People should steer clear of bats at all times, Dr Sheppeard warned.
"Four bats were confirmed with the lyssavirus in NSW this year, and lyssavirus infection can result in a rabies-like illness which is very serious and, if not prevented, is fatal,” she said.
"Always assume that all bats and flying foxes are infectious.
"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 and seek urgent medical advice.”
During the bat birthing season from October to November, people are more likely to come into contact with bats as young and miscarried pups may be on the ground and people might attempt to rescue them.
Bats can also be infected with the deadly Hendra virus, which has been found in Murwillumbah and Lismore horses this year.
Murwillumbah Vet Clinic Nurse Bronwyn Burton said Hendra can be spread to humans and horses, through contact with contaminated bat faeces.
"Make sure water troughs are covered, and horses are fed in a covered area, so their food and water is protected from bat faeces,” Ms Burton said.
"It's not a bad idea to put a fence around trees where bats roost.”
There have been three cases of lyssavirus in humans in Australia - all were in Queensland in 1996, 1998 and 2013 - and all three people died.
When a bat is injured or in distress, do not try to rescue it.
Contact the experts at WIRES on 1300 094 737.
If your pets or other animals come into contact with a bat and you would like expert advice, contact the Emergency Animal Disease hotline on 1800 675 888.
For your Local Public Health Unit, phone: 1300 066 055.