HEALTH experts have issued a warning for people to not handle injured bats after a Victorian man was bitten by an animal carrying the deadly lyssavirus.
The Hawthorn man underwent a two-week course of treatment with the rabies vaccine to prevent him developing the disease Victoria's deputy Chief Health Officer, Dr Brett Sutton said anyone seeing an injured bat should call a trained wildlife rescuer.
"Under no circumstances should people touch bats because some diseases they carry, such as Australian bat lyssavirus (ABLV), are transmissible to humans.
"If a person is scratched or bitten by a bat with Australian bat lyssavirus and is not treated with vaccine after exposure, it is 100 per cent fatal if symptoms occur."
Less than 1 per cent of healthy bats carry ABLV which is a rare, but fatal disease which may be transmitted from bats to humans. Domestic pets may also be at risk.
The virus is transmitted through being scratched or bitten by an infected bat. Fourteen bats in Victoria have been diagnosed with lyssavirus since the disease was first recognised in 1996.
"In Victoria up to three people a week may require post-exposure treatment after being bitten or scratched by a bat. Post exposure treatment is very effective and no one who has received it has ever developed the disease," said Dr Sutton.
Although it is known that many bats across Australia carry the virus, instances of transmission to humans are very rare, with only three human cases which occurred in Queensland. All three cases died from the disease, with the last death in 2013.
ABLV is detected up to three times a year in bats in Victoria, but no human cases have ever occurred in that state. The disease has also never occurred in domestic pets in Victoria.
"Lyssavirus has been found in four bat species within Australia, including the grey-headed flying fox." Dr Sutton said.
"As long as people avoid touching bats, flying fox colonies and fruit bats that forage in eucalypts and fruit trees pose little risk to Victorians."
However, Dr Sutton says unsafe nets on fruit trees are an avoidable cause of human-bat interactions.
"A net that you can poke a finger through is not wildlife safe, as bats can become entangled."
Anyone bitten or scratched by a bat should wash the area with soap and water and see a doctor immediately. Treatment is available but it must be given as soon as possible after being bitten or scratched.
Rabies and ABLV infection are thought to cause similar symptoms. The early symptoms are flu-like, including headache, fever and fatigue. The illness progresses rapidly to paralysis, delirium, convulsions and death, usually within a week or two. Rabies cases and the three known human cases of ABLV infection have shown a wide variability in the time it takes for symptoms to appear following exposure to an infected animal (from several days to several years).
Further information on lyssavirus in humans can be obtained from the Communicable Disease Prevention and Control Unit on 1300 651 160. General information about ABLV is available on the Better Health Channel
Information on safe netting https://www.wildlife.vic.gov.au/managing-wildlife/wildlife-and-fruit-trees