FOR CURRENT INFORMATION ON HENDRA VIRUS PLEASE VISIT:
Department of Agriculture and Fisheries >
Qld Conservation Council >
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It is important to emphasize that humans do not get Hendra virus directly from flying-foxes. The risk is from horses. Hendra virus is only contracted from sick horses.
Flying-foxes are considered the likely host but the infection route is still unknown. There is no definitive proof that flying-foxes are directly involved and it is possible there is an intermediate host. Flying-foxes have probably lived with this virus for thousands of years but for unknown reasons it has only come to the attention of scientists since the early 1990's. The virus in flying-foxes presents as asymptomatic which means they suffer no ill effects from the virus themselves. They develop antibodies once infected.
There are unknown factors why the virus is now causing the rare deaths of horses and even rarer deaths of humans. These events are rare on the scale of things and not as deadly as many human to human diseases or deaths from other animal causes. The virus is not mutating or changing which is a very good thing for animals and humans!
With the huge injection of funding from both NSW and Qld governments as well as federal funding, a vaccine has been fast tracked to deliver a safe and effective protection for horses. Horse owners need to vaccinate their horses to protect their horses as well as to protect human health.
Not only do we need horses and humans to be safely protected from Hendra virus we also need an education campaign about flying-foxes so their future is assured. We need Australians to understand the role of all bat species for the ecological services they perform for all of us in renewing forests through their nightly job of seed dispersal and pollination and microbats for exterminating millions of pest insects nightly.
Hendra virus is transmissible from horses to humans and not from bats to humans. Horses are responsible for the deaths in humans. More science is needed to determine the true transmission path.
Our native forest flowers such as Eucalypts and Melaleucas produce an energy packed nectar and pollen which is carbohydrate and protein rich. In good years the peak flowering time of our native forests is through the winter months in South-East Qld. Bats can fly many hundreds of kilometres from the other states and from north Qld especially to feed here. This leads some people to mistakenly believe bat populations are breeding out of control. This is not the case. Through our rescue work and that of flying-fox researchers we know that their populations are now under more stress to find food and survive than ever before. This is due mainly to the loss of foraging and roosting habitat as well as climatic variability, harassment at colonies and illegal shooting.
We have so much to learn about Hendra virus AND ALSO ABOUT BATS.
We need our bats. Please help us to help them.
Although we are not scientists nor are we epidemiologists, we do know a lot about bats! We have the closest relationship with bats than any other humans and we prove that, to date, bats are not as fatal as the media would want you to believe!
There is only one zoonotic disease that can be directly transferred to humans from bats and it's really rare in Australian bats. It's called Australian Bat Lyssavirus (ABL) and the good news is that the Rabies vaccine is a safe and protective post and pre exposure vaccine used to protect humans and pets.
ABL is a relative of the Rabies virus and as such is a zoonisis, which means it can be deadly if passed from its animal host to humans if not treated. Rabies is found in a diverse range of hosts around the world including monkeys, wolves, weasels, coyotes, dogs, bats, raccoons, cats, cattle, bears, farm animals and other domestic animals. In Australia ABLV has only infected bats, 3 humans and one horse that we are aware of.
It is assumed to be in the four main flying-fox species and has only been found in one species of microbat – the Yellow Bellied Sheath-tailed (YBST) bat. It is a very rare virus found in less than 0.5% of the free living healthy populations of bats and is believed to have been a part of bat populations for thousands of years.
Although the virus can be transmitted to humans, infection can be avoided by not handling any bats.
The virus was first discovered in Australia in 1996 when a wildlife carer received a deep bite to her finger by a YBST microbat.
Unfortunately ABL was not diagnosed until after the infection became untreatable when the virus moved along nerve pathways to the brain stem of the victim, sadly treatment was unsuccessful and the carer died.
Consequently Health authorities requested any people bitten by bats, to urgently visit their doctor. One lady did, after receiving a bite from a black flying-fox while trying to remove it from a boy's back after it had flown onto the boy at a BBQ. Bat carers would be aware that this is highly unusual behaviour for a flying-fox. Flying-foxes avoid humans at all costs. Although the vaccine was ordered, through miscommunication, tragically she did not receive the vaccine and died 18 months after being bitten. Medical practitioners hopefully now question any unusual contact between bats and humans necessitating urgent medical attention.
Tragically the third person to die from ABLV was a small 8 year old child who lived in a magical playground on an island resort where flying-foxes also called home. Not much is known about how the boy was infected but as carers we do suspect it was through a bite by a flying-fox and not a scratch. Maybe he had found an abandoned baby and was accidentally bitten. Unfortunately it seems, he did not tell his parents of the circumstances.
Health authorities warn not to handle any bats due to possible infection from the delivery of saliva via a bite or scratch. ABLV is a reportable zoonotic disease and although routine testing of other wildlife and domestic animals is not routinely performed, to date no cats or dogs have been found to be positive or have antibodies to ABLV but as a mammal to mammal virus, it is possible.
Governments had the chance to educate people about bats and how to live with them through an education strategy which was a federally funded grant in 2008. Unfortunately this money was diverted to reviewing crop mitigation methods (again) and the opportunity to educate Qld communities was lost. We continue to lobby the Qld government for more education about bats and about the low risk of the diseases they may have.
WHAT TO DO IF BITTEN or SCRATCHED
If you are bitten or scratched you must immediately wash the wound for 5 minutes under running water and seek medical treatment without delay. The rabies vaccine is effective if treatment is given early.
What if my dog (or cat) attacks a bat?
Dog attacks on flying-foxes are common and microbats are often attacked by cats. Contain the dog by locking it away or tying it up. Also contain the bat so it does not escape by placing a washing basket or a box over the top of it and place a heavy object on top. Immediately call a wildlife carer for assistance.