Health officials in Sydney’s west have issued an urgent alert after a deadly disease was detected among a group of bats.
Residents have been urged not to touch, or go near, bats amid fears they could contract lyssavirus (ABLV), a potentially deadly virus often carried by Australian bats.
Bats can transmit ABLV by biting or scratching. It can be deadly if not treated.
The Western Sydney Local Health District (WSLHD) issued the urgent health warning after the disease was detected in bats in the area.
Eleven people have been scratched or bitten by a bat this year, four of which needed medical treatment.
While lyssavirus is an incredibly rare disease, it can be fatal.
“While human ABLV infection is extremely rare with only three cases ever recorded in Australia, it is fatal if not prevented with early vaccine treatment,” WSLHD public health unit director Dr Shopna Bag said.
In 2018 a young Queensland boy named Lincoln Flynn became Australia’s third ABLV victim.
The eight-year-old boy’s parents then launched Lincoln’s Lyssavirus Foundation in a bid to rare awareness about the dangers of the potentially fatal infection.
Colin Boucher and Michelle Flynn routinely shared photos illustrating Lincoln’s tragic decline in health. He died while in intensive care.
“It was torture to watch,” Mr Boucher said at the time.
”We don’t want anyone else to have to go through such a horrific ordeal.”
“Parents have to talk to kids about the risks of even the tiniest little scratch. It can kill. But it also can be prevented.”
It was suspected Lincoln was scratched by a rabies-infected bat on the inside of his wrist while playing tennis at the Whitsundays.
Early symptoms could mimic the flu and include headaches, fever and fatigue.
The illness then progresses rapidly to paralysis, delirium, convulsions and death, the health department said.
Dr Bag explained the disease spreads to humans via the saliva of an infected bat, so there’s no risk of contracting it from bat urine or faeces.
“If you are bitten or scratched by any type of bat, clean the wound with soap and water immediately for at least five minutes, apply an antiseptic such as Betadine, and seek urgent medical advice,” WSLHD said in a statement.
If exposed to the deadly disease a person would be required to have a series of injections.
“If your pet has interacted with a bat, seek prompt assistance from your vet. If you work with or intend to start working with bats, contact your local doctor about vaccination,” the department said.
Last month South Australia’s health department warned that two animal carers had been exposed to the disease, but were fully vaccinated.