NSW Health warns public to steer clear of bats and flying foxes

MEDICOS are urging people to steer clear of bats with more than 140 people treated in the last year following bites or scratches from the flying creatures.

NSW Health has issued a strong warning, urging the public to assume “all bats and flying foxes are infectious”.

“People should steer clear of bats at all times,” NSW Health’s director of communicable diseases, Vicky Sheppeard, said.

“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.”

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One-hundred-and-forty-two NSW residents have been given rabies post-exposure treatment this year after they were bitten or scratched by a bat in Australia.

Dr Sheppeard said people were more likely to come in to contact with bats during October and November, the “bat-birthing season”.

“We find people are more likely to come in contact with bats, as young and miscarried pups may be on the ground, prompting people to pick them up or attempt to rescue them,” she said.

Dr Sheppeard said the best protection against being exposed to lyssaviruses is to avoid handling any bat in Australia, and any wild or domestic mammal in a rabies-endemic country. 

“People should not touch bats as there is always the possibility of being scratched or bitten and being infected. Always assume that all bats and flying foxes are infectious,” she said.

“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 such as Betadine and seek urgent medical advice.

“They may require a series of injections to protect against lyssavirus infection and the first two need to be given as soon as possible. It is important you seek advice from a GP or local public health unit regarding treatment.”