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Warning As Heat-Stressed Bats Bring Increased Risk Of Disease Exposure

Health authorities have issued an urgent warning to Queenslanders to steer clear of heat-stressed bats, because of fears they increase exposure to a potentially deadly disease.

Warmer weather and the ongoing drought has seen an increase in the number of bats falling out of trees, and that poses a health threat to humans and pets across the country.

According to authorities, there's been a 30 percent increase in the number of people who have been bitten or scratched by bats just this year, and doctors say that number is only going to rise as we head into summer.

In just the last month, Queensland Health said six people from the Wide Bay region have required treatment after being scratched or bitten by bats.

Australian bat lyssavirus (ABLV) is a rabies-like virus that can be transmitted from bats to humans, causing serious illness.

According to Queensland health "ABLV infection in humans causes a serious illness which results in paralysis, delirium, convulsions and death".

A perished spectacled flying-fox that dropped from an inner-city colony during a heatwave in Cairns last year. Photo: AAP

Two of those people cases occurred when people picked up what they believed was a dead bat.

Wide Bay Public Health Physician Dr Margaret Young urged people to stay away from handling bats altogether.

“It can be difficult to determine if a bat is dead – and even if they’re dead they still pose an infection risk to humans, particularly due to their wing claw,” Young said in a statement.

Why Are Bats Falling Out OF The Sky?

Dr Janine Barrett from Biosecurity Queensland said bats are falling out of trees because they are weak and exhausted from the weather conditions.

Drought and the recent bushfires have impacted food and habitats of bats, meaning injured, sick or dead bats will become more common, according to Queensland Health.

"At the moment they're weak, they're starving, they're tending not to fly back to their camps as usual," Barrett told 10 News First.

Hundreds of bats dropped dead in Campbelltown during a 2018 heatwave. Photo: AAP

That's got health authorities concerned because all bats are able to be carriers of a potentially fatal virus, called Australian Bat Lyssavirus (ABLV) and any bite or scratch from a bat poses a risk of infection.

"We've had three people who have died of that infection in the last 25 years or so," Dr Heidi Carroll from Queensland Health told 10 News First.

Experts say the disease is similar to rabies, and if untreated can severely impact the nervous system and cause confusion, headaches and dizziness.

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For Queenslander Nigel Lott, the risk of being exposed to a potentially deadly disease became all too real during a bike ride, in which he was suddenly hit by a bat on the side of the head, leaving him with a nasty scratch.

"I just had a flash of vision, recognition of a flying fox," Lott told 10 News First.

"I had a bleeding wound on the side of my head."

"Very surprised to see one at my level, it just doesn't normally happen."

The 56-year-old went straight to hospital after the incident where he underwent a series of injections.

Thankfully for Lott, after a full course of treatment, he has no symptoms of infection.

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But the advice for others from authorities remains; if you do see an injured bat you should never handle it and call professional handlers immediately.

Anyone who is even slightly bitten or scratched by a bat, should also seek immediate medical help and clean the wound to reduce the risk of infection.

“If you’re somehow bitten, scratched, had your skin nibbled or had your mucous membranes or broken skin exposed to bat saliva, then you should always seek immediate medical assessment,” Young said.