People are being warned not to handle bats after seven people in the region have been treated for bites and scratches already this year.
Hunter New England Health public health physician Dr David Durrheim said even these minor injuries from flying foxes and microbats could lead to lyssavirus infections, which were “very serious and almost always fatal”.
He said people should always treat them as though they were infectious, and leave handling them to the experts.
Recent high temperatures have affected the bats’ health, prompting people to pick them up from the ground or attempt to rescue them.
“While there have been three cases of infection in Australia over the past 40 years, lyssavirus is very serious and almost always fatal,” Dr Durrheim said.
“Always assume that all bats and flying foxes are infectious, regardless of whether the animal looks sick or not.
“People should avoid contact with all bats, as there is always the possibility of being scratched or bitten.
“Parents are encouraged to speak to their children about the dangers of handling bats.”
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 as soon as possible then apply an antiseptic solution.
The next step is to seek urgent medical advice, as a series of immediate injections to protect against lyssavirus infection may be needed.
Hunter New England Health advised people call their GP, or the public health unit on 1300 066 055, for advice on treatment.
As for the bats, if people see one hurt, under heat stress or tangled, they are advised to not touch it, but instead to call WIRES on 1300 094 737 (13 000 WIRES).