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Lyssavirus is carried by bats in Australia.

Lyssavirus is carried by bats in Australia.
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Lyssavirus (ABLV)

4-minute read

Lyssaviruses are a group of viruses that include rabies and Australian bat lyssavirus (ABLV).

Animals in Australia do not have rabies. Overseas, rabies occurs in dogs, cats, monkeys and foxes. ABLV does occur in Australian bats. It can be transmitted from bats to humans via a bite or scratch from an infected bat.

Risks and prevention

ABLV is very rare; only 3 cases of human infection with ABLV have been recorded since the virus was first identified in 1996. However, if ABLV is not treated, it’s fatal. It’s assumed that any bat in Australia could potentially carry ABLV, including flying foxes and fruit bats.

The best way of avoiding ABLV is not to handle bats. If you come across an injured bat, contact the Wildlife Information Rescue and Education Service (WIRES) organisation on 1300 094 737. WIRES have staff who are trained in how to handle bats safely.

As the ABLV virus is unlikely to survive outside the animal for more than a few hours, you are not likely to get ABLV from exposure to bat faeces (poo), urine or blood. Living, playing or walking near bat roosting areas doesn’t pose a risk of contracting ABLV, as long as bats are not handled. Contact with any bat fluids should generally be avoided.

You may need to be vaccinated if your work involves contact with certain animals, or if you are travelling to areas where you are at risk of catching ABLV. Because the viruses are from the same ‘family’, the vaccination is the same as the one given for rabies. Talk to your doctor before beginning work with animals or travelling to ensure that you receive the right advice about vaccinations.

ABLV vaccine

Vaccination is your best protection against ABLV. This table explains how the vaccine is given, who should get it, and whether it is on the National Immunisation Program Schedule. Some diseases can be prevented with different vaccines, so talk to your doctor about which one is appropriate for you.

When to get vaccinated?

Before you start working with certain animals that might put you at risk of ABLV.

Before you go overseas to countries where there is rabies. You should consult your doctor or visit a travel health clinic 6 to 12 weeks before you leave Australia

How many doses are required? 3 doses over 1 month.
How is it administered? Injection
Is it free?

No, there is a cost for this vaccine.

Find out more on the Department of Health website and the National Immunisation Program Schedule, and ask your doctor if you are eligible for additional free vaccines based on your situation or location.

Common side effects The vaccine is very safe. Side effects may include a sore arm, swelling where the injection went in, headache or nausea.

Symptoms

Symptoms of ABLV infection are similar to those for the flu. They include headache, fever and fatigue, which progresses rapidly to paralysis, delirium, convulsions and death within 1 to 2 weeks.

Given the rarity of infection, there is some uncertainty about when symptoms appear after contact with the virus. Australian health departments state that symptoms appear between a few weeks and up to 2 years after exposure to an infected bat.

Treatment

Lyssaviruses can be prevented by rapid and thorough cleaning of the wound and by vaccination. Even if you have had the rabies vaccine, if you are bitten or scratched by a bat in Australia, you should immediately:

  • wash the wound thoroughly with soap and water for at least 15 minutes
  • apply an antiseptic with anti-virus action such as povidone-iodine, iodine tincture, aqueous iodine solution or alcohol (ethanol) after washing
  • seek medical attention as soon as possible to care for the wound and to assess whether you are at risk of infection

There is no available treatment for ABLV once symptoms have started.

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Last reviewed: April 2019

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