Seven people in our region have been reported as being treated for bat bites or scratches this year, prompting Hunter New England Local Health District to issue a warning about the dangers of handling bats.
Too often, people come upon a bat suffering distress from heat or entangled in barbed wire fences and, with good intentions, think they can help the bat themselves.
A distressed bat is more likely to injure a person due to fear, and there is always a chance a flying fox or microbat is infected with the lyssavirus, which is fatal to humans if left untreated.
“While there have been three cases of infection in Australia over the past 40 years, lyssavirus is very serious and almost always fatal,” public health physician Dr David Durrheim said.
“Always assume that all bats and flying foxes are infectious, regardless of whether the animal looks sick or not. People should avoid contact with all bats, as there is always the possibility of being scratched or bitten.
“Parents are encouraged to speak to their children about the dangers of handling bats,” Dr Durrheim said.
If you are bitten or scratched by a bat, the advice is to not ignore it. Wash the affected area in soap and water for five minutes, and apply an antiseptic solution, preferably Betadine or any other solution containing iodone. Seek medical help immediately, as a series of urgent injections may be needed to protect against lyssavirus.
In addition for the potential for infection, due to the fragile construction of a bat’s wings, trying to disentangle a bat from barbed wire often leads to further injury to the bat unless it is done by somebody trained to do so.
President of FAWNA NSW and secretary of the NSW Wildlife Council, Meredith Ryan said that some bats have required euthanasia due to injuries sustained from a member of the public attempting to help the distressed bat.
“There is the potential of doing more harm than good. You can cause more harm to the bat trying to rescue them,” Meredith said.
Despite the warning to not touch bats, Meredith urges the public not to be frightened of them and recognise how valuable they are to our environment.
“You know they say for koalas, ‘no tree, no me’, well for bats it could very well be ‘no me, no tree’, particularly if world wide bee populations continue to have problems and decline at the rate they are now. Bats are the only real long distance pollinators and need to be recognised and treated accordingly for their important role in Australia's ecosystem and biodiversity,” Meredith said.
If you come across a flying fox or microbat needing assistance, DO NOT touch the animal. Call FAWNA on their 24 hour assistance line, 6581 4141.
FAWNA is the only wildlife rescue organisation in an area spanning the MidCoast Council to the northern part of the Kempsey Shire and west to Stroud and Gloucester.
For more information about lyssavirus refer to the Bat Bites and Scratches fact sheet: www.health.nsw.gov.au/Infectious/factsheets/Pages/Rabies-Australian-Bat-Lyssavirus-Infection.aspx.