The deadly Hendra virus has been detected in a fruit bat in South Australia for the first time.
The virus, which is capable of infecting horses and can then be passed on to humans, was detected in a tissue sample taken from native fruit bats, called flying foxes, that died in North Adelaide parklands during extreme temperatures earlier this month.
The cause of the deaths of about 100 flying foxes was investigated and tests showed one sample was positive for the virus.
Although still to be confirmed, heat stress was the most likely cause of the bats’ deaths.
The state’s chief veterinary officer, Dr Rob Rahaley, said people should be alert but not alarmed by the discovery of the virus in local flying foxes.
Hendra virus can be transmitted to horses but some simple precautions can be taken by horse owners to minimise the risk, he said.
“While this is the first time Hendra virus has been found in bats in South Australia, it was expected, as our flying fox population most likely originated from Victoria and New South Wales, where evidence of Hendra virus infection in flying foxes was demonstrated some time ago,” Dr Rahaley said.
“It has always been assumed local flying foxes would have a similar status to animals in those states.
“However, we believe local factors such as vegetation and climate mean the risk to South Australian horses is much lower than it is in Queensland and northern New South Wales. It is important to note that, to date, Hendra virus has never been detected in a horse in South Australia, Victoria or southern New South Wales.
“But the discovery serves as a reminder to all South Australian horse owners to take steps to minimise the potential for contact between flying foxes and horses.
“Horse owners should immediately contact their vet if their horse is unwell. Biosecurity SA will work with veterinarians if needed to rule out Hendra virus. Likewise, if owners have any concerns or questions about the virus, they should discuss these with their vet.”
There have been seven reported cases of Hendra in humans, four of which proved fatal. All were contracted through close contact with bodily fluids from infected horses.
Rahaley said owners should prevent their horses being near fruiting and flowering trees that flying foxes may frequent and also cover feed bins and water troughs.
Further details and other preventative actions can be found here.
The general public is warned not to touch flying foxes or other bats under any circumstances. If a sick or injured animal is found, contact Fauna Rescue’s 24-hour service on 8289 0896.
In the unlikely event someone is bitten or scratched by a flying-fox, or any other Australian bat species, they should immediately wash the wound thoroughly with warm soapy water and seek medical advice.