Why we need to be careful when getting in contact with bats

Although being extremely rare, Australian bats are considered to be carriers of the Australian Bat Lyssavirus (ABLV), which can pose a risk to the health of humans and pets.

Research indicates that ABLV is present in less than 1% of all free-living bats. While ABLV infection is rare, it should be presumed that any bat has potential to spread ABLV.

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.

Research is still ongoing to fully understand how the disease is transmitted and government recommendations regarding contact with bats are constantly changing as new information becomes available. 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

Please consult the information pages of the Qld Government (as listed below) for the most up to date recommendations.

What to do if I got bitten or scratched by a bat?

ABLV is known to be transmitted from an infected, sick bat via a bite or deep scratch.  ABLV is related to rabies and can therefore cause a deadly disease if not treated instantly. A post exposure vaccination is available and is most effective when administered as soon as possible after the incident occured.

    • thoroughly rinse the bite/scratch with water and apply an antiseptic
    • seek urgent medical attention
    • report the incident immediately to Queensland Health on 13 HEALTH (13 43 25 84)
  • Call our bat rescue hotline on 0447 222 889 (Gold Coast Area) or the RSPCA on 1300 ANIMAL (1300 264 625) to have a trained carer sent out who can safely handle the bat. NEVER TOUCH A BAT or attempt to handle it yourself!

To date, there is no evidence for a direct transmission of the Hendra virus from a bat to a human. However, Hendra can be transmitted to humans from an infected horse. There is no risk of contracting ABLV or Hendra by living close to a bat colony or by bats visiting your backyard.

What if my dog/cat had direct contact with a bat?

    • thoroughly check for bites/scratches
    • rinse the bite/scratch with water and apply an antiseptic
    • seek veterinary advice
    • call Biosecurity Qld on 13 25 23 or the Emergency Disease Watch Hotline on 1800 675 888 for the most up to date recommendations
  • Call our bat rescue hotline on 0447 222 889 (Gold Coast Area) or the RSPCA on 1300 ANIMAL (1300 264 625) to have a trained carer sent out who can safely handle the bat. NEVER TOUCH A BAT or attempt to handle it yourself!

Although, to date, no dog or cat has contracted Hendra or ABLV directly from a bat, research is still being carried out to fully understand how both viruses are transmitted. Thus, if your cat or dog has been in direct contact with a bat, please urgently consult your veterinarian for advice. A post exposure vaccination against ABLV is available for cats and dogs and can be obtained through your vet. For more information and the most up to date research, visit the information pages of the Queensland Government:

Flying Foxes and the Hendra Virus

Flying Foxes are a natural reservoir for Hendra virus, although they do not show any signs of illness when infected.

There is currently no evidence that the virus can be transmitted from:

  • flying fox to human
  • human to horse
  • human to human.

It is believed the virus can be transmitted from:

  • flying fox to horse
  • horse to horse
  • horse to dog
  • horse to human.

Although Hendra virus infection is periodically present in flying fox populations across Australia, the likelihood of horses becoming infected remains very low.

Ongoing research is continually increasing our knowledge about this disease.

Although Hendra virus infection occurs naturally in flying foxes, culling of specific colonies is not an effective Hendra virus risk management strategy, because flying foxes continually move from one colony to another. Some individuals in any colony may only stay a day or two, while others may stay a week or two and some may stay a month or more.

Flying Foxes are protected species. They are critical to our environment because they pollinate our native trees and spread seeds. Without flying foxes, we wouldn’t have our eucalypt forests, rainforests and melaleucas.

Further Reading and Resources