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Australian bat lyssavirus

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


In 1996, a new virus was discovered in Australian bats - identified as a lyssavirus, the new virus is a close relative to the common rabies virus found overseas.
  • In 1996, a new virus was discovered in Australian bats
  • Identified as a lyssavirus, this virus is a close relative to common rabies found overseas
  • Since its discovery, bat lyssavirus is known to have killed two people in Australia
  • Anyone scratched or bitten by a bat should immediately wash the affected area with soap and water, and contact their local doctor
History
In May 1996 a black flying fox showing nervous signs was found near Ballina, NSW.

Samples were sent to Yeerongpilly Veterinary Laboratory in Queensland as part of a surveillance program for the Hendra virus.

A fixed-tissue brain sample was also sent to CSIRO's Australian Animal Health Laboratory (AAHL) in Geelong.

The Hendra virus tests were negative, but the sample tested positive for rabies.

Isolation and gene sequencing showed that it was a lyssavirus, which is closely related to common rabies.

In November 1996 a Queensland woman who had recently become a bat handler, became ill.
She initially suffered numbness and weakness in her arm which progressed to coma and death.

Samples sent to AAHL during this woman's illness confirmed that she had been infected with lyssavirus.

In December 1998 a woman from Mackay in North Queensland was also diagnosed with the disease and later died.
She had been bitten by a bat more than two years earlier, before the infection was first identified in humans and before information about vaccination and bat handling precautions were circulated.

Lyssavirus has been isolated, or infection demonstrated, in both insectivorous and fruit bats (flying foxes) from:
  • New South Wales
  • Northern Territory
  • Queensland
  • Victoria
  • Western Australia.
Australia's rabies-free status has not changed as a result of the Australian bat lyssavirus discovery.

Health risk

Humans
Australian health authorities suggest lyssavirus poses a low public health risk.

However they strongly recommend that anyone scratched or bitten by a bat should immediately wash the affected area with soap and water and contact their local doctor.

Research at the United States' Center for Disease Control and Prevention shows the vaccine for classical rabies can protect against lyssavirus.

A pre-exposure course of rabies vaccine should be taken by high-risk category people, such as:

There is also a post-exposure treatment course for people bitten or scratched by a bat which is suspected of being infected.

Pets
The Commonwealth Department of Health advises that the risk of infection for pets bitten or exposed to a bat is very low.

The  Department of Health and Ageing also advises that the risk of transmission of bat lyssavirus from a dog or cat to a person is very low, although there is theoretical risk of transmission.

If your pet has contact with a bat, obtain advice from your state agriculture or health department, or read the information on bat lysssavirus in on the links shown to the right under Related Areas.

Research results

Research has yielded information about the gene and protein structure of the virus. This has allowed scientists to refine the tests available.

AAHL research shows there are subtle differences between lyssavirus in flying foxes and insectivorous bats.
This indicates there are two established cycles of the virus in Australia:
  • one in flying foxes
  • another in insectivorous bats.
Infected bats are capable of transmitting the virus to:
  • humans
  • other bats
  • possibly other mammals.
Research shows that some, but not all, infected bats had virus in their saliva or salivary glands.

Retrospective studies have identified no further human cases of Australian bat lyssavirus.

Investigation of stored bat tissue has so far identified virus in specimens collected as early as January 1995.

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BATS. Megabats, Flying-foxes, Fruit bats and Microbats: Australian bat lyssavirus
Australian bat lyssavirus
lyssavirus
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BATS. Megabats, Flying-foxes, Fruit bats and Microbats
http://www.batsrule.info/2012/08/australian-bat-lyssavirus.html
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