Penrith residents are being warned not to handle bats and to treat their bites and scratches with great caution due to the possibility of contracting the deadly Lyssavirus.
The NSW Health warning follows reports that large numbers of bats have died during the recent hot weather and small, local bushfires.
NSW Health is also concerned that the recent heat and bushfires have caused injured bats to seek other shelter, prompting people to pick them up or attempt to rescue the animals.
It is not uncommon for people living in Penrith, the Blue Mountains and Hawkesbury regions to get bites or scratches from bats.
Dr Vicky Sheppeard, Manager of the Public Health Unit at the Nepean Blue Mountains Local Health District, said Lyssavirus is rare and is only transmitted through bites and scratches from the animal.
But she advises that people should avoid contact with all bats, as there is always the possibility of being scratched or bitten and this could lead to a serious infection.
“Many people are bitten every year and people should assume that all bats and flying foxes are infectious, regardless of whether the animal looks sick or not,” Dr Sheppeard said.
Dr Sheppeard said people who have been scratched or bitten by bats run the risk of contracting an infection that could result in a rabies-like illness, which if not prevented may be fatal.
“If someone is bitten or scratched by any type of bat they should thoroughly clean the wound for at least five minutes with soap and water as soon as possible, apply an antiseptic solution to help prevent infection and seek urgent medical advice,” Dr Sheppeard said.
If bitten or scratched you may require a series of injections to protect against Lyssavirus infection and the first two need to be given as soon as possible.
If possible the bat should be submitted for laboratory testing, provided this can be done without further risk to humans. Call the Emergency Animal Disease Hotline on 1800 675 888 who can advise what to do.
When a bat is injured or in distress from bush fires or being tangled in fence wire or netting, do not attempt to rescue it. Contact the wildlife experts at WIRES on 1300 094 737.