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Warning – don’t touch bats!

Published:  29 November 2021

Flying fox breeding season is upon us and North Queenslanders are being warned not to touch bats.

Townsville Hospital and Health Service public health director Dr Steven Donohue said any species of bat could be carrying Australian Bat Lyssavirus (ABL) which was harmful to humans and almost always, fatal.

‘‘A small percentage of bats carry ABL which is like rabies and has led to three human deaths in Queensland in the past 25 years.

‘‘The message is simple, don’t touch bats,’’ Dr Donohue said.

‘‘Don’t touch any type of bat, adult or pup, sick or well, dead or alive. You wouldn’t pick up a snake, so don’t touch a bat.”

‘‘How a bat looks or behaves is not an accurate guide as to whether it may be carrying a virus.

‘‘It is also incredibly important to encourage young children to never handle any bat, particularly if they should come across a sick or injured one.’’

Dr Donohue said only people who had been trained in the care of bats, and had been vaccinated against rabies, should ever handle bats or flying foxes.

‘‘Bats can scratch or bite straight through a towel or even leather gloves,’’ Dr Donohue said.

‘‘If you are bitten or scratched by a bat, wash the wound thoroughly with soap and water for at least five minutes.

‘‘If available, apply an antiseptic such as iodine or alcohol after washing and seek immediate medical advice as potential lyssavirus exposure requires a series of injections to prevent ABL, just as if you had been bitten by a rabid dog or monkey overseas.

‘‘If bat saliva comes into contact with the eyes, nose or mouth, flush the area thoroughly with water, and seek immediate medical attention.”

If you find an injured bat or flying fox, contact the RSPCA (1300 ANIMAL) or your local wildlife care group/rescuer/carer, or the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection (1300 130 372) for assistance. Do not attempt to assist the animal yourself.

For further information, phone 13 HEALTH (13 43 25 84).

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