New South Wales bat policy opposed by Aussie veterinary body

A transmission electron micrograph showing a bat brain infected with lyssavirus.
A transmission electron micrograph showing a bat brain infected with lyssavirus. © CSIRO

The Australian Veterinary Association has voiced its disapproval over a new policy that the New South Wales Government plans to introduce next week that targets bat populations over concerns about the disease risk.

The association says the policy will do nothing to solve the problem of humans being at risk of bat-borne diseases such as Australian bat lyssavirus, which has also been found in horses.

The new policy will give councils extra power to kill and move bat colonies.

Association spokesman Dr Robert Johnson said the anti-bats package was pointless.

“It’s like moving a crying baby from one room to another. The same issues just happen somewhere else,” he said.

“The best way people can protect themselves from bat-borne diseases is to stay away from flying fox [fruit bat] colonies. People should not handle bats under any circumstances.

“We want to help any animal in distress, but it’s important not to handle an injured or diseased bat in any way. This includes baby bats who look like they’ve fallen from a tree. Call your local wildlife rescue organisation and they will arrange expert assistance for the animal.

“If you do get scratched or bitten by a bat then you should seek medical attention immediately,” he said.

Australian bat lyssavirus (ABLV) is closely related to the rabies virus.

It was first identified in a young Black Flying Fox collected near Ballina in northern New South Wales in January 1995 during a national surveillance program for the recently identified Hendra virus.

ABLV is distributed throughout Australia in a variety of bat species, which are considered the primary reservoir for the virus.

There have been three confirmed cases of ABLV in humans, all of them fatal. The first was in November 1996 and the most recent in 2012.

It is one of four zoonotic viruses discovered in Pteropid bats since 1994, the others being Hendra virus, Nipah virus and Menangle virus. Of these, ABLV is the only one known to be transmissible to humans directly from bats without an intermediate host.

The first two cases of ABLV in horses occurred in 2013. The horses, who were paddock mates in south-east Queensland, suffered severe neurological symptoms and were euthanised.

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