Hunter New England Health is warning the community about the dangers of handling bats after seven people in the region have been already treated for a bat bite or scratch this year.
Recent high temperatures have affected the health of bats, prompting people to pick them up from the ground or attempt to rescue them.
Public health physician Dr David Durrheim said that handling bats can result in lyssavirus infection through bites and scratches from flying foxes and microbats.
“While there have been three cases of infection in Australia over the past 40 years, lyssavirus is very serious and almost always fatal,” Dr Durrheim said.
“Always assume that all bats and flying foxes are infectious, regardless of whether the animal looks sick or not.
“People should avoid contact with all bats, as there is always the possibility of being scratched or bitten.
“Parents are encouraged to speak to their children about the dangers of handling bats."
If someone is bitten or scratched by any type of bat they should thoroughly clean the wound for at least five minutes with soap and water as soon as possible, apply an antiseptic solution and seek urgent medical advice. A series of urgent injections to protect against lyssavirus infection may be required.
Your GP or the local Public Health Unit on 1300 066 055 can provide advice on treatment.
When a bat is injured or in distress from heat or being tangled in fence wire or netting, do not attempt to rescue it.
Anyone who comes across an injured or trapped bat is advised to contact their local wildlife rescue group.
For contact details of your local group visit: www.environment.nsw.gov.au/wildlifelicences/RehabFaunaContact.htm
For more information about lyssavirus refer to the Bat Bites and Scratches fact sheet: www.health.nsw.gov.au/Infectious/factsheets/Pages/Rabies-Australian-BatLyssavirus-Infection.aspx