Beware biting bats, Australians told

Wed Dec 17, 2008 9:03am EST
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CANBERRA (Reuters Life!) - People in Australia's most populous state were warned to keep away from bats on Wednesday following an increase in the number of bat bites that can infect those bitten with a potentially fatal rabies-like virus.

Several people have been bitten or scratched by wild bats as they attempted to rescue injured bats in recent weeks, said doctors from the Hunter and New England Health Service, northwest of Australia's biggest city Sydney.

All had to be vaccinated against the potentially fatal Australian Bat Lyssavirus, which is related to rabies, and has led to two deaths after bat bites in the past 11 years, said public health doctor David Durrheim.

"The virus has been found in four species of fruit bats/flying foxes and at least three species of insect eating bats," Durrheim said in a statement.

"So all Australian bats, both the larger flying foxes and the small insect-eating bats are considered to have the potential to transmit lyssavirus."

About ninety species of bats are found in Australia.

Most live in colonies of between 20 and several thousand individuals, and roost in trees, caves or in buildings.

"The best protection against being exposed to the virus is to avoid handling bats altogether," Durrheim said, adding there was no risk from walking or playing near bats or bat-roosting areas.

(Reporting by James Grubel; Editing by Gillian Murdoch and Bill Tarrant)