Australian bat lyssavirus (ABLV) is closely related to the rabies virus, which does not currently occur in Australia. ABLV has been previously found in bat populations in Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory.
Due to the risk of severe disease, people should assume all bats across Australia are potentially infected with ABLV.
Symptoms of ABLV in humans
Symptoms of ABLV can appear within days, or up to several years after exposure. Early symptoms of ABLV infection are flu-like and can include headache, fever, weakness and fatigue. The illness progresses rapidly to paralysis, delirium, convulsions and death, usually within a week or two of symptom onset.
ABLV in humans is almost always fatal once symptoms develop. All three known cases of ABLV in humans have been fatal.
Transmission of ABLV to humans
ABLV is transmitted by the saliva of infected bats either through bites or scratches, or being exposed to saliva via the eyes, nose, mouth or broken skin.
Prevention of ABLV infection in humans
The simplest form of prevention is to avoid close contact with bats.
If you encounter a trapped, sick or injured bat:
- do not attempt to handle the animal
- call the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) Customer Service Centre on 136 186 for referral to an authorised wildlife carer.
High-risk groups for ABLV
High-risk groups for ABLV include people with an ongoing risk of exposure to bats, such as:
- bat handlers, carers and researchers
- power-line workers
- veterinarians and associated staff
- wildlife officers.
People at high risk of being bitten or scratched by bats should be routinely vaccinated. Certified volunteer bat handlers and carers can obtain the vaccine for free.
Vaccination for ABLV
Immunisation with the rabies vaccine can prevent disease. A schedule of three vaccinations is given over one month (day 0, 7 and 28). People at ongoing risk of exposure to bats should have a blood test every two years to check whether a booster shot is needed.
Treatment for bat bites or scratches
If someone has been bitten or scratched by a bat, immediately and thoroughly wash the wound with soap and water. After washing, if available, apply an antiseptic with anti-virus action such as Betadine (with the active ingredient povidone-iodine) or alcohol (ethanol).
It is extremely important to seek appropriate medical treatment as soon as possible if someone has been bitten or scratched by a bat (even if they are already vaccinated).
Appropriate medical treatment includes:
- thoroughly washing the wound with soap, water and a preparation that can kill any viruses that may have been introduced
- treatment with rabies immunoglobulin (an injection providing extra early protection against the virus), if not previously immunised
- treatment with four doses (or five in people with weakened immune systems) of rabies vaccine starting immediately (day 0) and on days 3, 7, 14 if the person has not been previously immunised. If the person has been previously immunised, they will require two doses of rabies vaccine immediately (day 0) and on day 3.
If the bat is still in the area, call the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) Customer Service Centre on 136 186 for referral to an authorised wildlife carer.
Never attempt to handle a bat yourself.
Where to get help
This page has been produced in consultation with and approved by:
Department of Health and Human Services - RHP&R - Health Protection - Communicable Disease Prevention and Control Unit
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