'Rabies-like disease' discovered in bats can kill humans, experts warn

A deadly virus has been discovered in bats in South Australia and experts have now issued a sharp warning, it has been reported.

SA Health reportedly released a statement Thursday urging everyone to go outdoors to avoid any contact with bats.

The concern is with bats that carry the Australian bat Lyssavirus [ABL]This is a rabies-like disease that can be transmitted to humans if they are bitten.

It can affect the central nervous system and is usually fatal. The World Health Organization estimates that more than 55,000 people die of rabies worldwide each year.

Only three cases of ABL have been recorded since the virus was first identified in 1996, all of which resulted in the patient’s death.

The Mail online reports that the virus has now been confirmed for the third time in bats in South Australia.

Dr. Louise Flood, Department of Communicable Disease Control at SA Health’s Department of Health, said, “ABL is a rabies-like disease that can be transmitted to humans if they are bitten or scratched by an infected bat.

“And if treatment is delayed until after the onset of symptoms, the condition is invariably fatal.

“While only one percent of bats normally carry ABL, these two recent exposures are worrying and an important reminder that bats should only be handled by appropriately trained and vaccinated zookeepers.”

She added that immediate wound management and post-exposure prophylaxis can help prevent ABL from developing after a bat bite or scratch.

Dr. Mary Carr of the Department of Primary Industries reportedly also warned pet owners to keep their animals away from bats.

A group of fruit bats hanging upside down in a tree

ABL infection causes flu-like symptoms such as headache, fever, and fatigue.

The disease quickly progresses to paralysis, delirium, convulsions, and death, usually within a week or two.

Cases of rabies and the three known cases of ABL infection in humans have shown great variability in the time it takes for symptoms to appear after exposure to an infected animal, from several days to several years.

Officials say if you are bitten or scratched by a bat somewhere overseas, you should immediately wash the wound for at least five minutes, use an antiseptic with antiviral properties, and see a doctor as soon as possible.

The UK has been rabies-free for years, while the disease has emerged as close as it is in France.

In 2018, the disease was found in the body of a small bat weighing just over a 50 pence coin in an undisclosed location in Dorset.

At the time, Public Health England urged general practitioners to consider giving rabies injections to their patients who are routinely exposed to bats.

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