‘Rabies-like disease’ discovered in bats can kill humans, experts warn

A deadly virus has been discovered in bats in South Australia and experts have now issued a stark warning, it has been reported.

SA Health was said to have released a statement on Thursday urging anybody going outdoors to avoid any contact with bats.

The concern is over bats carrying Australian Bat Lyssavirus [ABL], which is a rabies-like disease that can be transmitted to humans if they get bitten.

It can affect the central nervous system and is usually fatal. The World Health Organization estimates that more than 55,000 people die from rabies worldwide each year.

Only three cases of ABL have ever been recorded since the virus was first identified in 1996, and all of them led to the death of the patient.

The Mail Online reports that the virus has now been confirmed in bats in South Australia for a third time.

Dr Louise Flood, SA Health’s Department for Health and Wellbeing’s 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.

“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.”

She added that prompt wound management and post exposure prophylaxis can help prevent the development of ABL after a bat bite or scratch.

Dr Mary Carr from the Department of Primary Industries was also said to have warned pet owners to keep their animals away from bats.

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

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

Rabies cases and the three known human cases of ABL infection have shown a wide variability in the time it takes for symptoms to appear following exposure to an infected animal, from several days to several years.

Officials say that if you are bitten or scratched by a bat anywhere overseas you should immediately wash the wound for at least five minutes, apply an antiseptic with anti-virus action and seek medical attention as soon as possible.

The UK has remained rabies-free for years while the disease has turned up as close as in France.

In 2018 the disease was found in the body of a small bat weighing little more than a 50p coin at an undisclosed location in Dorset.

At the the time Public Health England urged GPs to consider giving rabies injections to any of their patients who are routinely exposed to bats.