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A statewide health warning has been issued across Victoria after a Melbourne resident was bitten by a distressed bat he tried to help.
The man was infected with the fatal virus, lyssavirus, but managed to recover after undergoing a fortnight’s worth of rabies treatment.
Despite the man’s good intentions, Victoria’s Deputy Chief Health Officer, Dr Brett Sutton, said members of the public should avoid all contact with bats.
“Under no circumstances should people touch bats because some diseases they carry, such as Australian Bat Lyssavirus, are transmissible to humans” Dr Sutton said on Thursday.
He warned if untreated after being bitten or scratched, the encounter could prove fatal.
“If a person is scratched or bitten by a bat with Australian Bat Lyssavirus and is not treated with vaccine after exposure, it is 100 per cent fatal if symptoms occur,” he said.
Lyssavirus has been found in four bat species within Australia, including the Grey-headed flying fox.
In Victoria, up to three people a week may require post-exposure treatment after being bitten or scratched by a bat.
Despite many bats across Australia carrying the virus, instances of transmission to humans are rare, with only three human cases, which occurred in Queensland.
In all three cases the victims died from the disease, with the last death in 2013.
The Melbourne man’s infection was the first reported human incidence of the disease in the state.
Dr Sutton says only trained volunteers or workers who have been vaccinated should ever handle bats.
He says if bitten or scratched, the wound should be washed with soapy water before seeking immediate medical treatment.
If anyone encounters a sick or injured bat they should not attempt to touch the animal but call Wildlife Victoria on 03 8400 7300 for a wildlife rescuer.
If anyone suspects lyssavirus disease in a bat, call the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning on 136 186 or the Emergency Disease Watch Hotline on 1800 675 888.
For further information on the virus in humans, contact the Communicable Disease Prevention and Control Unit on 1300 651 160.