Print

Australian bat lyssavirus and your general biosecurity obligation

If you choose to be involved with bats (for example, as a bat carer) or to provide advice to others about Australian bat lyssavirus (ABLV) or bats (for example, as a professional) you have an obligation to know about and minimise the risk from ABLV.

Your general biosecurity obligation

All Queenslanders have a ‘general biosecurity obligation’ (GBO) under Queensland's Biosecurity Act 2014.

This means that you are responsible for managing biosecurity risks that:

  • are under your control
  • you know about, or should reasonably be expected to know about.

Individuals and organisations whose activities pose a biosecurity risk must:

  • take all reasonable and practical steps to prevent or minimise each biosecurity risk
  • minimise the likelihood of causing a ‘biosecurity event ’, and limit the consequences if such an event is caused
  • prevent or minimise the harmful effects a risk could have
  • not do anything that might make any harmful effects worse.

Biosecurity Queensland educates Queenslanders about biosecurity. If you don’t meet your GBO:

  • a biosecurity order may be issued that requires you to take specific action within a reasonable time
  • formal compliance action might be taken to ensure you or your organisation improves the way you manage biosecurity risks
  • you may get a court order
  • your permit or other approval might be amended, suspended or cancelled
  • you may be prosecuted, convicted or fined.

What you are expected to know

Australian bat lyssavirus (ABLV) is a virus found in some Australian bats. It causes fatal encephalitis (infection and inflammation of the brain) in bats, humans and other animals.

If you choose to be involved with ABLV or bats, you are expected to know about the risks of ABLV and how to minimise them. That includes if you:

  • are a wildlife carer licenced to rescue and rehabilitate bats. This includes volunteers that are part of a bat rescue, bat survey, or scientific research interacting with bats.
  • work at a facility that keeps bats, such as zoos and sanctuaries
  • examine, treat or look after bats, such as a veterinarian or veterinary nurse
  • are a professional or expert that provides information or advice on either ABLV or bats
  • are a scientist or researcher that has direct contact with ABLV or bats as part of your work or study
  • reasonably expect to have contact with ABLV or bats during your activities (e.g. as a wildlife spotter-catcher or local, state or commonwealth government officers).

If you have direct contact with ABLV or bats you must minimise the risk of ABLV transmission and progression to clinical ABLV disease. You must minimise the risk to yourself, other people, other bats, and other animals.

Meeting your GBO to yourself

The following measures may reduce the likelihood that you may be infected with ABLV and prevent progression to clinical disease.

  • If you are not rabies-vaccinated – avoid having direct contact with ABLV or bats. Contact a vaccinated, skilled wildlife carer or the RSPCA on 1300 ANIMAL (1300 264 625) if a bat needs help.
  • Only rabies-vaccinated people should have direct contact with ABLV or bats. Vaccination may prevent clinical disease and death.
  • Minimise bites and scratches by wearing appropriate personal protective equipment when interacting with bats. Appropriate personal protective equipment may include:
    • puncture resistant gloves (e.g. nitrile gloves that meet AS 2161.3) or two pairs of ordinary disposable gloves (double gloving)
    • forearm protection (gauntlets) worn with gloves - as the forearm is a common site for scratches
    • water-resistant dressings to cover cuts and abrasions
    • long sleeves, long pants and closed shoes to protect your skin
    • consider wearing eye protection (e.g. safety glasses) if there is a risk of being scratched or getting fluid in your eyes (e.g. when bats are overhead)
  • Use bat handing skills and equipment (e.g. a towel) to handle a bat safely.
  • Follow good basic hygiene principles (e.g. wash hands well, stop handling bats and wash your hands before you eat, drink or smoke).

If bitten or scratched by a bat

Prompt action may prevent progression to clinical disease.

  • Do not scrub the wound.
  • Immediately wash the wound gently but thoroughly for at least 5 minutes with soap and water.
  • If available, apply an antiseptic with anti-virus action, such as povidone-iodine, iodine tincture, aqueous iodine solution or alcohol (ethanol) after washing.
  • If bat saliva gets in the eyes, nose or mouth, or broken skin flush the area thoroughly with water.
  • Seek urgent medical advice from a doctor or nearest public health unit.

Meeting your GBO to other people

While you may not be responsible for the actions of others, as a person who chooses to interact with bats or to provide advice about ABLV, it is reasonable that your actions and the information you provide allows other people to minimise the risk to themselves.

  • Take all reasonable and practical steps to prevent unvaccinated people having direct contact with bats (e.g. do not ask an unvaccinated person to help you rescue or care for bats, advise unvaccinated people not to rescue bats themselves).
  • If there are many dead or unwell bats (e.g. due to heat stress or multiple abortions), do not ask unvaccinated people to assist with rescue and disposal. There have been many instances where apparently dead bats have bitten or scratched people.
  • Promote responsible bat handling practices. This includes promoting images of carers dealing with bats responsibly, including using gloves and appropriate clothing. Don’t set a poor example to people who, if they were to follow your example, would be putting themselves at high risk of ABLV infection.

If you think that a person may have been bitten or scratched by a bat, you are expected to know that they may have been exposed to ABLV. While it is not your responsibility to give medical advice – it is reasonable and practical that you provide information about first aid and alert the person to the risks, and that they should take action.

Information to provide a person that may have been bitten or scratched by a bat

  • Some bats are infected with Australian bat lyssavirus and can transmit fatal infection to people and other animals.
  • If bitten or scratched - immediately wash the wound, gently but thoroughly, with soap and water for at least 5 minutes, and apply an antiseptic (e.g. iodine or alcohol).
  • Seek urgent medical advice. Vaccination may be needed to prevent onset of fatal disease.

Meeting your GBO to other animals including pets

Domestic animals, such as horses, dogs and other pets, may be exposed to ABLV through contact with bats or their body fluids. On rare occasions, if an animal (other than bats) is exposed, it may lead to infection and progression to clinical ABLV disease. Other animals with clinical disease due to ABLV infection could pose a risk of ABLV transmission to people.

  • Take all reasonable and practical steps to prevent your pets having direct contact with a bat.
  • Do not take another animal with you to rescue or dispose of bats.
  • Advise other people who have brought a dog or other animal to a place with bats that the animal could be at risk and should be removed urgently.  
  • Inform people who seek your assistance to rescue a bat that they should take all reasonable and practical steps to prevent people and other animals having direct contact with the bat (e.g. leave children, and pets in the house until the bat is removed).

If you think an animal may have been bitten or scratched by a bat you are expected to know that the animal may have been exposed to ABLV. While it is not your responsibility to provide a person with veterinary advice – it is reasonable and practical that you alert the person to the risks and that they should take action.

Information to provide people whose animal may have been bitten or scratched by a bat

  • Some bats are infected with Australian bat lyssavirus and can transmit fatal infection to people and other animals.
  • If bitten or scratched and a wound can be found - immediately wash the wound, gently but thoroughly, with soap and water for at least 5 minutes, and apply an antiseptic (e.g. iodine or alcohol).
  • Seek urgent advice from your private veterinarian. Vaccination may be needed to prevent onset of fatal disease in the animal and subsequent infection of a person or other animals.

Meeting your GBO to other bats

You may reduce the likelihood of a bat with clinical ABLV disease transmitting ABLV to other captive bats.

  • Bats that are new to a facility (in particular rescued sick, injured or orphaned bats) should be held separately for at least 1, preferably 3, days before being housed with other captive bats. Bats that do not show signs suggestive of ABLV after the period of separation can be assumed to have a lower (but not zero) likelihood of being infectious with ABLV and are suitable to be housed with other bats.
  • If the bat displays behavioural or other clinical signs during the days of separation that are unusual or suggestive of ABLV the bat should continue to be held separately, ideally for up to 10 days.
  • Where logistics prevent holding every new bat separately (e.g. during periods of high intake), limit contact between bats during the first 3 to 10 days of care (e.g. by managing bats in small stable groups until all bats in a group have been observed for at least 3, preferably up to 10, days).
  • Any bat rescued with a history, behaviour, or clinical signs suggestive of ABLV, or that develops behaviours or clinical signs suggestive of ABLV while in care, should be held separately.
  • Submit a bat for laboratory testing if it died or was euthanased following clinical signs suggestive of ABLV infection of less than 10 days duration.

Disposal of a dead bat

We recommend not touching a bat even if it appears to be dead. If possible, leave a dead bat where it is.

If you decide to dispose of a bat, the following steps will assist in reducing the risk of exposure to ABLV.

  • Gently prod the bat first with a long tool (e.g. a shovel, broom or pole) to be sure it is dead.
  • If dead – wear gloves and use a tool to place the bat in a plastic bag that won’t tear easily. Double bag the bat by placing the first bag in a second, strong plastic bag.
  • Dispose of the bag in accordance with your council’s waste disposal requirements. Contact your local council to find out what is appropriate in your area.

Further information