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Woman attacked by bats queries protection


by: By Darren Cartwright From: AAP November 30, 2011

Carolyn Martin reads medical advice from the Government after being attacked by three flying foxes on her balcony at her unit. Picture: The Courier-Mail Source: The Courier-Mail

A BRISBANE woman treated for exposure to the deadly bat-borne disease lyssavirus has been given the all clear.

New Farm resident Carolyn Martin walked onto her balcony late at night in September to hang out a towel when three bats flew at her.

One wrapped itself around an ankle and the other two flew around her face.

After contacting Queensland Health, Ms Martin was told she required a series of injections over four weeks to protect her from lyssavirus and rabies.

She received treatment to the right side of her face, underneath the eyes, nose and lips and to the right side of an arm.

"I've had the last of the injections and have been given the all clear," Ms Martin said.

"It was a terrible experience."

Lyssavirus is related to rabies and causes delirium, convulsions and, usually, death, according to Queensland Health's website.

Two people who have contracted the virus since 1996 have died, while three men were treated for lyssavirus in central Queensland this year, after being bitten by an infected flying fox.

Queensland's chief veterinary officer Rick Symons said it was extremely rare for healthy bats to approach or attack humans, while those infected with lyssavirus showed aggression towards humans.

Flying foxes are a protected species in Australia and carry the deadly Hendra virus, which has killed four people since 1994, and 21 horses this year in NSW and Queensland.
A Brisbane woman is being treated for exposure to the deadly bat-borne disease lyssavirus after being attacked by three flying foxes.

New Farm resident Carolyn Martin said she was on her balcony about 11pm last Tuesday when the bats attacked her.

One wrapped itself around an ankle and the other two flew around her face.

After contacting Queensland Health, Ms Martin was told she required a series of injections over four weeks to protect her from lyssavirus and rabies.

Lyssavirus is related to rabies and causes delirium, convulsions and, usually, death, Queensland Health’s acting chief health officer Professor Michael Cleary said.

Queensland Health’s website says two people who have contracted the virus since 1996 have died, and Prof Cleary said there had been 89 notifications of bites or scratches involving bats across the state so far this year.

There were 151 notifications of bites or scratches by this time in 2010.

Ms Martin told of how the bats attacked her while she was hanging out a towel.

‘‘Three flying foxes flew onto my balcony at the same time and I was in the middle of them,’’ Ms Martin said.

‘‘One stuck to my left shoe and I kicked it and it scratched my foot and the other two were flying around my head and one spat in my face.

‘‘I’ve had nine injections to the right side of my face, underneath the eyes, nose and lips.

‘‘The remaining injections were to the right side of my arm.

‘‘I’ve got to have injections over the next 28 days.’’

Ms Martin said there appeared to be an increase in the bat population in inner Brisbane and said it was wrong she could not destroy the bats even though they could kill her.

‘‘On one hand we have people protecting cute, cuddly flying foxes for animal welfare issues, but as far as I’m concerned if they can transfer the deadly lyssavirus there is nothing cute or cuddly about them,’’ she said.

‘‘If I met a man in an alley with a gun I have the right to defend myself, yet a flying fox with deadly lyssavirus I haven’t got the right to defend myself.’’

Prof Cleary said anyone who has been potentially exposed to lyssavirus and has never been vaccinated against it requires a injection of rabies immunoglobulin and a series of five rabies vaccine jabs over the course of one month.

Last year, three men were treated for lyssavirus in central Queensland after being bitten by an infected flying fox.

They were vaccinated after the bat, of the species known as the little red flying fox, bit them on the head and ears at a park near the town of 1770, south of Gladstone.

One of the men caught and killed the bat, which tested positive to lyssavirus.

Queensland’s chief veterinary officer Rick Symons said it was extremely rare for healthy bats to approach or attack humans.

He said a tell-tale sign of a flying fox infected with lyssavirus is aggression towards humans.

‘‘Lyssavirus is within the bat population and, unlike Hendra virus, it affects the bats,’’ Dr Symons told AAP.

‘‘It does make them sick and it can kill them. Sometimes they can get aggressive and attack people.

‘‘The general advice is, if you can touch or go near a bat or they come close to you, it’s likely they have lyssavirus.’’

He said the two deaths attributed to lyssavirus happened before it was realised the disease was in Australia.

Since then, no one has died.

Flying foxes are a protected species in Australia and carry the deadly Hendra virus, which has killed four people since 1994, and 21 horses this year alone in NSW and Queensland.

Prof Cleary said so far this year in Brisbane there have been 16 notifications of bites or scratches from bats, compared with 42 at this time last year.

In the state’s southeast there have been 45 notifications of bites or scratches this year, compared with 76 at this time in 2010, he said.

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