A bat virus can kill, and people need to take extra care to avoid handling bats. That’s the grim warning Thursday from the Australasian Society for Infectious Diseases (ASID) conference now taking place in Canberra, Australia. Dr Joshua Francis and Dr Clare Nourse released the details surrounding the case of an eight-year-old boy who died from Australian Bat Lyssavirus (ABLV) in February.
The relatively new disease, a close relative of rabies which is also sometimes carried by bats, was first discovered in 1996. Since then, ABLV has claimed three human victims.
Australia is free of the classic rabies virus, and one of the women involved in the first two known deaths had just started a job as a bat handler. Since the rabies vaccine also provides protection against the lyssavirus, Australians like vets or rescue groups who must handle bats are now advised to get that vaccine even though they have little risk of encountering classic rabies.
However, most other Australian residents and visitors are advised to simply avoid touching any bats.
In their address to the conference, Dr. Francis stressed that there is no known treatment for ABLV. Once the infection is advanced, the disease is likely to be fatal. The young boy had not told his parents that he was bitten by a bat during a family vacation in Queensland, Australia. The medical team didn’t know what they were up against, and it wasn’t until he had been hospitalized for 10 days that they found the bat virus in his system.
It’s almost mandatory for a tourist to photograph the large bats — also known as flying foxes — in Sydney, Australia’s Royal Botanic Gardens. I think I grabbed this picture somewhere between strolling past the iconic Sydney Opera House and walking on the famous Sydney Harbour Bridge.
Enjoy the bats, people. It’s fun to watch them hang out right in the middle of town. Just don’t try to pet them. Bat virus can kill.
[flying fox fruit bats in Sydney photo by Daniel Vianna and Wikipedia Commons]