Microbats link to 'world first' deadly virus death

MICROBATS: Hinterland microbats commonly take up residence in roof spaces.
MICROBATS: Hinterland microbats commonly take up residence in roof spaces. Doug Beckers

TWO horses have been euthanased in the Southern Downs after testing positive to Australian Bat Lyssavirus, in what is believed to be a world first.

APN understands that the virus is most likely to have come from microbats in the area.

Biosecurity Queensland is putting the the property in quarantine.

One horse was believed to be euthanased on May 11 after falling ill and a second horse was also put down after showing similar symptoms five days earlier.

There is believed to be 20 other horses on the property who are potentially infected with the deadly virus.

The site will remain under quarantine while further testing is conducted on the remaining horses.

Staff from the Darling Downs Hospital and Health Service Public Health Unit will visit this property to assess the situation and identify any human potentially exposed to this horse.

The public health staff will interview all people identified as having been in contact with the horse to determine whether any post-exposure treatment is required.

Chief Health Officer Dr Jeannette Young said it is important to remember that human cases of Lyssavirus are incredibly rare.

"There have only been three recorded cases in Australia, all in Queensland, and sadly, all three people passed away," Dr Young said.

"All three cases were the result of direct exposure to bats with Lyssavirus. There are no documented cases of transmission of Lyssavirus or rabies from horses to humans. However, the theoretical possibility does exist.

"We do however have a preventative treatment that is effective in any person not displaying symptoms of the virus.

"Warwick and Toowoomba Hospitals will provide a free course of this preventative treatment to anyone who public health staff determine was in close contact with this dead horse resulting in a risk of exposure to the virus. Simply patting a horse would not constitute exposure."

People who have had a potential exposure to ABLV require an injection of rabies immunoglobulin and a series of four rabies vaccine injections.
Any Darling Downs local who believes they have been in direct contact with, or in close proximity to this horse, can also contact 13 HEALTH (13 43 25 84) for advice.

Staff at 13 HEALTH will help determine whether any further action, including testing or treatment, is required
ABLV is carried by bats and flying foxes.


Horse had first been tested for Hendra

Biosecurity Queensland chief biosecurity officer Dr Jim Thompson said the horse tested negative for Hendra virus infection but further testing returned a positive result for ABLV.

"Another horse showing similar symptoms was euthanased at the same property five days earlier.

"There are 20 other horses on the property. The vet involved in both cases used PPE and took appropriate precautions.

"The site will remain under quarantine while further testing is conducted on the remaining horses.

"ABLV is carried by bats and flying foxes."

What we know about about 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 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



Western Australia.

Australia's rabies-free status has not changed as a result of the Australian bat lyssavirus discovery.

Health risk

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:

bat carers
wildlife officers.

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

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.

Source: CSIRO

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