Lyssaviruses are a group of viruses that include rabies and Australian bat lyssavirus (ABLV).
Although rabies does not currently occur in animals in Australia (as it does overseas, 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 (‘rabid’) 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 ALBV 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, contact or exposure to bat faeces, urine or blood do not pose a risk of exposure to ABLV. Living, playing or walking near bat roosting areas don’t pose a risk of contracting ABLV, as long as bats are not handled. Contact with any bat fluids should generally be avoided.
Work involving contact with certain animals, or where travel to areas of disease risk is likely sometimes means getting vaccinated to reduce the risk of infection. 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 working with animals, or travelling to ensure that you receive the right advice about vaccinations.
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.
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 five 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.
Last reviewed: September 2018