A spate of bats testing positive to Australian lyssavirus in Queensland has prompted new warnings about handling injured animals.
Three people have died from Australian bat lyssavirus (ABLV) since the virus was detected in 1996. Around 300 known potential exposures to ABL are reported in Queensland each year and, while treatment should start as early as possible after a bat bite or scratch, it is still beneficial later, as infection can take years to develop.
ABLV can be transmitted via bat bites or scratches, or through exposure of the eyes, nose or mouth to bat saliva. All bats are assumed to be potential carriers of the virus, which can cause paralysis, delirium, convulsions and death. People should not handle bats, even if they appear dead, according to Queensland Health guidance.
Workplace Health and Safety Queensland advises that at-risk workers include veterinarians and their staff, zoo workers, wildlife officers, bat rescue and rehabilitation carers, fauna surveyors, bat scientists, electrical workers who remove bats from powerlines, laboratory personnel who handle bat tissues or live lyssaviruses, and any other person who has occupational contact with bats. A person will not be exposed to ABLV risks merely by working near a bat colony.
PCBUs have a duty to manage ABLV risks by ensuring only people who have current rabies vaccination have contact with bats and by providing the information, training, instruction or supervision needed to protect people from ABLV risks.
Personal protective equipment must be provided to, and worn by, at-risk workers. Fruit growers are also advised to use small aperture safe netting to minimise bat entanglements.
If you are bitten or scratched by a bat or exposed to bat saliva through the eyes, nose or mouth:
- immediately wash the wound with soap and water
- if available, apply an antiseptic such as Betadine after washing
- if bat saliva gets into your eyes, nose or mouth, flush the area thoroughly with water
- contact a doctor to arrange anti-rabies immunisation, ideally the same day.
For more information visit www.health.qld.gov.au or call 13 HEALTH (13 432 584). For bat carers or rescue volunteers in your local area, ring 1300 ANIMAL.