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Bat deaths prompt health warning

7 January 2014

The spate of bat deaths being attributed to recent extreme temperatures has prompted Queensland Health to issue a reminder not to touch or handle bats.

Bats are suffering heat stress as a result of the severe weather, with thousands of bats dying from the heat in Queensland.

Chief Health Officer Dr Jeannette Young said Queensland Health had already seen a dramatic increase (250 per cent) in the number of people reporting exposures to bat bites and scratches since the beginning of last year.

Wildlife groups have also reported an increase in the number of bats and flying foxes in suburban areas in search of food and water, with some found trapped in fruit netting and on barbed-wire fences.

Dr Young said the majority of exposures occurred when people attempted to handle injured, sick or trapped bats. "If you find a bat it is very important not to touch the bat because of the risk of infection with Australian bat lyssavirus (ABLV)," she said.

"Some bats may appear to be dead but they’re not, and when people have attempted to remove them they have been bitten or scratched."

Bats also have a claw on their wings which is a frequent cause of injury. If you are concerned about a bat that you think is dead, or if it appears injured, you should contact the RSPCA or your local wildlife group for advice on how to safely remove it.

Your local council is also able to assist with the removal of dead bats.

"It is very important to not attempt to assist the animal yourself."

In the event someone is bitten or scratched by a bat or exposed to bat saliva through the eyes, nose or mouth they are advised to follow these steps:

  1. Do not scrub the wound - wash the wound gently but thoroughly for about five minutes with soap and water
  2. If available, apply an antiseptic with anti-virus action such as iodine-based disinfectant (e.g. Betadine) or alcohol (ethanol) 
  3. If bat saliva has got in the eyes, nose or mouth, flush the area thoroughly with water
  4. Contact a doctor or the nearest hospital immediately

For more information visit the Queensland Health website or call 13 HEALTH (13 43 25 84).

Background information:

  • ABLV is a virus that can be transmitted from bats through bites and scratches and by bat's saliva having contact with a person's broken skin or the mucous membranes of the eyes, mouth or nose. This most commonly occurs through bites and scratches.
  • ABLV infection in humans causes serious illness which results in death. The most recent case was in March 2013 in an eight year old boy from north Queensland.
  • While ABLV can be fatal, immediate medical attention and receiving a course of post-exposure rabies immunisations can prevent the onset of clinical signs. There is no specific treatment once clinical signs begin.
  • Each year in Queensland there are more than 100 reported cases of potential exposure to ABLV, and since 1996 in three people have died in Australia as a result of ABLV infection after being bitten or scratched by bats.
  • In 2013 there were 494 cases of potential exposure to the virus.
Last updated: 11 June 2014