Urgent warning after surge in flying fox bites and scratches
MEDICAL experts have warned Far North residents not to handle sick or injured flying foxes after a surge in scratches and bites.
Almost 40 people have presented to health services across the Cairns and Hinterland region this year for bat-related injuries, many of which have occurred in recent weeks.
September to January is typically breeding season for the animals with a lot of activity in people's backyards, parks and rainforest areas.
Tropical Public Health Services Cairns public health medical officer Dr Annie Preston-Thomas said while catching disease directly from flying foxes was rare, they could potentially carry the life-threatening virus Australian Bat Lyssavirus.
"ABLV is an infection similar to rabies, which can be transmitted through a bat bite or scratch, or possibly through exposure of the eyes, nose or mouth to bat saliva," she said.
"If bats are acting in a strange manner, they are more likely to be infected with the virus. Even bats that appear healthy may be infected, so it is important not to handle bats."
Dr Preston-Thomas advised people to contact a wildlife carer if they spotted a sick or injured bat.
"Bats can bite through fabrics that people might use to pick them up," she said.
"Trained bat carers have the right protective equipment and should be vaccinated against rabies."
She urged anyone scratched or bitten to seek treatment. "Although vaccination should be given as soon after exposure as possible, it is still beneficial later as the disease can take years to develop," she said.
BAT BITE FIRST AID
If you are bitten or scratched:
1. Wash the wound with soap for five minutes.
2. Apply an antiseptic such as Betadine after washing.
3. If bat saliva has got into your eyes, nose or mouth, flush the area thoroughly with water.
4. Contact a doctor to arrange anti-rabies vaccination, ideally the same day.
Originally published as Urgent warning after surge in flying fox bites and scratches