Avoid contact with bats

Tuesday 15 January 2019

South Australians are being reminded not to handle bats, as the high temperatures increase the number of heat-stressed bats and pups falling to the ground. 

SA Health’s Acting Director of Public Health Services, Dr Fay Jenkins, said any contact with a bat can be very dangerous and the animals must only be handled by appropriately trained and vaccinated bat handlers.

“Bats can carry a range of serious diseases that can be transmitted to humans if they are bitten or scratched by an infected bat, including Australian bat lyssavirus (ABLV), which causes rabies,” Dr Jenkins said.

“While less than one per cent of Australian bats carry ABLV and no human cases have been recorded in South Australia, there have been three reported cases of rabies from ABLV in Australia since 1996, all of which were fatal. The last case involved a child and occurred in Queensland in 2013.

“In 2018 there were nine bat exposures in South Australia that required precautionary treatment, including rabies immunoglobulin and rabies vaccine, and there have been two already this year.

“Like most wild animals, healthy bats are naturally shy and will not approach humans or allow themselves to be handled. However, during summer it’s more common to see bats, particularly young flying foxes, on the ground as they’re sensitive to the heat, resulting in some bats falling from trees.”

Natural Resources Adelaide Mt Lofty Ranges ecologist, Jason Van Weenen, said the risk of more young grey-headed flying foxes succumbing to heat stress had significantly increased over the past five years with the growth of the Adelaide colony.

“The size of the Botanic Park camp has reduced slightly in recent months and is now estimated at around 17,000 bats,” Mr Van Weenen said.

“Temperatures over 40 degrees generally pose the greatest heat stress risk to pups, so there is a high likelihood of a significant number of pups dying over summer.

“If you see a large or small bat on the ground - living or dead - do not touch it under any circumstances. Instead contact the Fauna Rescue’s 24-hour bat helpline on 0475 132 093.”

If you are bitten or scratched by a bat, take immediate action by:

  • Thoroughly washing the wound with soap and water.
  • Applying an antiseptic solution such as povidone-iodine if available.
  • Seeking immediate medical attention from a GP or hospital emergency department.

Immediate treatment given as soon as possible after exposure can prevent disease.

Bats play an integral role in the ecology of the natural environment and are protected in Australia under relevant State and Commonwealth law. In metropolitan Adelaide and surrounding areas, the most common species are grey-headed flying-foxes and microbat species.

If you do come across a bat that appears to be dead, injured or in distress, contact the Fauna Rescue’s 24-hour bat helpline: 0475 132 093.

For more information about bat safety, see: Bats, and staying safe around them.

For more information about grey-headed flying foxes, visit the Natural Resources SA website.

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