You've Got What?
How infectious diseases are spread and simple and practical advice for preventing the spread of infection in the home and community
Lyssaviruses are a group of viruses that include Australian bat lyssavirus and rabies virus and can cause rabies infection in humans.
Classical rabies is a disease of mammals that occurs in many parts of the world, but not in Australia. Rabies can sicken and kill the affected mammal. When people get rabies, usually through a bite or scratch from an infected animal, they almost always die.
Australian bat lyssavirus is carried by bats. It rarely infects humans, but when it does it causes rabies. Only three cases of human infection with Australian bat lyssavirus have been recorded in Australia, all in Queensland: two were recorded in the 1990s and one in 2013. All three people died from the infection.
Rabies (rabies virus and Australian bat lyssavirus infection) is a notifiable condition1
Both rabies virus and Australian bat lyssavirus are spread from infected mammals to people or other mammals through bites or scratches. Biting or scratching can inject the viruses – which is contained in the animal’s saliva – into the exposed person’s body. An infected animal may not show any symptoms of illness.
Overseas, mammals that transmit rabies include:
Rabies kills many local people overseas and has infected some Australians travelling or living overseas. Rabies is a risk to travellers to:
In Australia, people who handle bats are at risk of rabies from Australian bat lyssavirus infection. In Australia, bats – both the larger flying foxes (or fruit bats) and the smaller insectivorous (or micro) bats – have been found to carry Australian bat lyssavirus. Scientists believe the virus is present in bat populations throughout Australia.
Rabies virus and Australian bat lyssavirus infection cause similar symptoms. These include:
Death usually follows several days after the onset of symptoms.
Diagnosis can be difficult and confirmation requires laboratory tests for the presence of the virus in skin, blood, CSF (cerebrospinal fluid: the fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord) and nervous tissue or other tissue.
(time between becoming infected and developing symptoms)
For rabies virus infection, usually 3 to 8 weeks, but periods from 9 days to 7 years have been documented.
There is little information available on the incubation period for Australian bat lyssavirus, but it is probably similar to that for rabies virus.
(time during which an infected person can infect others)
Person-to-person spread is rare, but is possible while the person with rabies remains alive. Animals with rabies may be infectious for several weeks before symptoms appear until after they have died. This period varies depending on the species.
There is no effective treatment currently available for people who have developed signs and symptoms of rabies.
If you are bitten or scratched by a bat in Australia, or by a wild mammal (or any unvaccinated domestic animal) overseas:
1 – In South Australia the law requires doctors and laboratories to report some infections or diseases to SA Health. These infections or diseases are commonly referred to as 'notifiable conditions'.