Bats infected with rabies-like virus can now kill humans with a single scratch

Bats have been infected with a deadly virus which makes their scratches or bites “invariably fatal” to humans.

It is the third time the rabies-like disease has been detected in southern Australia, with people urged to keep clear of the flying mammals.

Australian bat lyssavirus (ABL) was first identified in 1996 and belongs to the same family as rabies.

Only three cases of it in humans have been recorded with all dying as a result of being bitten or scratched by infected bats, the Mail Online reports.

South Australia Health’s Department for Health and Wellbeing said it is the third time it has been confirmed in bats in the region.

The rabies-like virus makes infected bats' scratches or bites "invariably fatal" to humans
The rabies-like virus makes infected bats’ scratches or bites “invariably fatal” to humans

Dr Louise Flood, of its Communicable Disease Control Branch, said: “ABL is a rabies-like disease that can be transmitted to humans if they are bitten or scratched by an infected bat.

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“And if treatment is delayed until after the onset of symptoms, the condition is invariably fatal.

“While only one per cent of bats usually carry ABL, these two recent exposures are concerning and is an important reminder that bats should only ever be handled by appropriately trained and vaccinated animal handlers.

“While the development of ABL from bat bites or scratches can be prevented through prompt wound management and post exposure prophylaxis, it is important to avoid contact in the first place.”

The Pipistrelle bat is known for roosting and living in urban areas in Europe and Asia
The Pipistrelle bat is known for roosting and living in urban areas in Europe and Asia

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Dr Mary Carr from the Department of Primary Industries warned pet owners to keep their animals away from bats and to contact health authorities immediately if there may have been contact.

Last year there were nine cases of humans being exposed to bats that required precautionary treatment, including rabies vaccine.

ABL infection causes flu-like symptoms, including headache, fever and fatigue.

Close up of two fruit bats hanging upside down in a tree in Australia
Close up of two fruit bats hanging upside down in a tree in Australia

The illness progresses rapidly to paralysis, delirium, convulsions and death, usually within a week or two.

Rabies virus and ABL belong to a group of viruses called lyssaviruses which are usually transmitted via a bite from an infected animal.

They all affect the central nervous system and cause usually fatal illnesses.

The World Health Organisation estimates that more than 55,000 people die from rabies worldwide each year.

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While rabies virus doesn’t currently affect land dwelling animals in Australia, the closely related ABLV does occur and can be transmitted from bats to humans.

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