Lyssavirus that killed horse came from species of microbat

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A microbat: Pacific Sheath-Tailed Bat (Emballonura semicaudata).
A microbat: Pacific Sheath-Tailed Bat (Emballonura semicaudata). © Jorge Palmeirim

The form of lyssavius that fatally infected a horse in southern Queensland was of a type found only in one species of insect-eating microbats, it has been revealed.

Researchers from the Queensland Centre for Emerging Infectious Disease have been conducting property profiling to identify the type of bats and their movements in the area of the case, in the Southern Downs.

“Through their initial work, researchers have identified microbats in the area, including microbats roosting in buildings on the property,” Queensland’s chief biosecurity officer, Dr Jim Thompson, said.

Chief veterinary officers from across Australia met on Tuesday to discuss the Australian bat lyssavirus (ABLV) case – the first confirmed case of the virus infecting a horse. Another horse died on the property a fortnight earlier of similar symptoms, but it was too late to test it for the virus, which is closely related to rabies.

“A number of options for managing the property were considered by the chief veterinarians,” Thompson said.

“Biosecurity Queensland will be discussing these options with the property owner, including isolation and potential vaccination of animals, and will continue to work closely with them in managing the situation.

“Through our understanding of this virus, it is believed that the infected horse was most likely infected through being scratched or bitten by a bat.”

Thompson said the particular lyssavirus that infected the horse was carried only by one species of microbats, not flying foxes, which are known to carry the Hendra virus.

“I must reiterate that we haven’t before seen ABLV in a horse in Australia. However, experts from around the country are continuing to work together to learn more about the virus.

“As has been our long-standing advice, it is recommended that animal owners take all reasonable steps to keep their animals away from bats.

“This may include restricting animals at night, particularly when bats are feeding. If owners suspect an animal might have been bitten or scratched by a bat, they should contact their local veterinarian.

“It is also important to ensure sound hygiene and biosecurity measures are routinely adopted for all contact with animals including their saliva, blood and other body fluids and associated equipment. This is to protect people against a number of diseases that can be transferred, not just ABLV.”


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