Under Queensland legislation, if you suspect an animal is clinically ill with ABLV or if an animal has been bitten or scratched by a bat or other animal known to be infected with ABLV, you must report it to Biosecurity Queensland on 13 25 23 or contact the Emergency Disease Watch Hotline on 1800 675 888.
You do not need to notify us about animal contact with a bat unless the bat is known to have ABLV.
Australian bat lyssavirus (ABLV) is a virus endemic in Australian bats that causes invariably fatal encephalitis (infection and inflammation of the brain) in bats, humans and other animals.
The natural history of ABLV is similar to rabies. There are two 2 closely related variants (types) of ABLV:
- Pteropid-ABLV in flying foxes
- YBST-ABLV in yellow-bellied sheathtail bats.
Other, unrecognised, variants may also be present in other bat species.
The risks of ABLV infection in humans and animals can be minimised by avoiding contact with bats, and seeking urgent medical or veterinary advice about the use of rabies vaccines to prevent disease.
A virus of the family Rhaboviridae that is closely related to the classical rabies virus found overseas.
|Distribution in Queensland|
ABLV has been reported only in Australia and is considered to be present in all populations of Australian bats. It is likely that variants of ABLV also occur in bats in South East Asia.
In May 2013, 2 horses were confirmed as being infected with ABLV on a property in South East Queensland. These were the first known cases of ABLV in an animal other than a bat.
There have been 3 human cases of disease due to ABLV. All were fatal.
Clinical ABLV disease occurs after a variable incubation period, which can be from 10 days to many months or years. The virus does not survive for more than a few hours outside an infected animal.
Lyssaviruses are usually transmitted by a bite or scratch from an infected, clinically ill animal.
Infection of other mammals (e.g. horses, dogs or cats) could pose a risk of transmission to humans.
The virus has been found in 4 common species of flying fox:
It has also been found in yellow-bellied sheathtail bats (Saccolaimus flaviventris - an insectivorous microbat).
Antibodies have been found in some other species of microbat, suggesting other microbat species may also be hosts.
Fewer than 20% of bats infected with ABLV show signs of abnormal aggression or approaching people.
Other animals infected with ABLV are expected to show clinical signs consistent with encephalitis in that species. Clinical signs in non-bat animals are likely to be similar to ABLV in bats or the signs of rabies in non-bat species.
Clinical disease is invariably fatal.
ABLV is a zoonosis that can be fatal in humans.
|How it is spread|
ABLV is shed in the saliva. Like the rabies virus, it is presumed that ABLV is usually transmitted by bites or contamination of a fresh wound, scratch, or mucous membranes with infected saliva.
There is no known risk of contracting ABLV from bats flying overhead, contact with bat urine or faeces blood. There is no evidence to suggest ABLV could be contracted by eating fruit partially eaten by a bat. Any fruit that has been partially eaten by any animal should not be eaten as it could be contaminated by a variety of germs.
There is no significant risk of exposure from living, playing or walking near bat roosting areas.
Infection is rare.
Research indicates that ABLV is present in less than 1% of all free-living bats. ABLV infection is more common in sick, injured or orphaned bats. Of those sick or injured bats with signs of central nervous system disease, up to one-third are infected with ABLV. Domestic animals, including horses, dogs and other pets may potentially be exposed to ABLV through contact with bats. The similarity of ABLV with other lyssaviruses suggests that, on rare occasions, exposure may lead to clinical ABLV disease.
|Monitoring and action|
Avoid handling a live bat yourself. Only rabies vaccinated people who are experienced in handling bats should rescue or examine a bat.
Information for veterinarians about minimising the risk of ABLV infection in animals is available online. If you suspect a bat or other animal is infected with ABLV, isolate the animal, limit its contact with humans and other animals and monitor the animal's health.
If the animal develops clinical signs suggestive of ABLV, it should be euthanased and tested for ABLV.
What to do if bitten or scratched by a bat
Infection in people is extremely rare. While there is no effective treatment once a person is clinically ill, prompt action following a bat bite or scratch can prevent clinical disease.
Post-exposure rabies vaccinations and other treatments may be necessary if you have been bitten or scratched by a bat. No person who has received post-exposure prophylaxis (vaccinations) has developed clinical disease.
Rabies vaccination is presumed to provide cross-protection against ABLV in humans and animals.
Effective long-term control of lyssaviruses requires vaccination of the host-species population. Eradication of ABLV through vaccination of bats is not possible due to an inability to vaccinate free-living bats. Culling flying foxes would not control or eradiate ABLV.
Information for bat carers
The following guidelines can reduce the likelihood that a bat with clinical ABLV disease has opportunity to transmit ABLV to other captive bats.
Prevent pets and other animals from coming into contact with bats. This may include keeping dogs and cats inside at night, particularly when bats are feeding on fruiting or flowering trees on your property.
Avoid contact with live bats (including flying foxes). If you come across a bat alone or an injured, sick or orphaned bat, do not touch it.
Contact the RSPCA or your veterinarian for advice about dealing with dead bats.
Only rabies-vaccinated people should handle live bats.
Vaccinated people should be trained to handle bats safely and wear protective clothing (long sleeves, long pants, shoes and puncture resistant gloves) to avoid being bitten or scratched.
If you have occupational contact with bats or ABLV, including if you are a wildlife carer, veterinarian or scientist working with ABLV, seek medical advice about pre-exposure rabies vaccination.
- Australian bat lyssavirus - information for veterinarians
- Bats and human health facts
- CDNA National Guidelines (SoNGs) for rabies virus and other lyssavirus (including ABLV) exosures and infections
- Australian bat lyssavirus and handling bats (workplace health and safety)
- Department of Environment and Heritage Protection
- Wildlife Health Australia
- Australasian Bat Society