A Scratch From An Australian Bat Can Kill Years Later

A Grey-Headed Flying Fox flies in Sydney. Ian Waldie/Getty Images

A rare but fatal Australian bat lyssavirus (ABLV) infection transmitted via a bite or scratch can remain hidden for years and will kill unless treated early on.

The infection is related to rabies and occurs in all four Australian flying fox species, according to an article in the Australian Medical Journal.

Although transmitted to humans only rarely — usually via bites or scratches — when it goes untreated before its active phase, the result is inevitably fatal.

ABLV can present weeks and even years after exposure, is difficult to diagnose and, although treatment regimens exist, “none have proven consistently effective”.

Authors, led by Dr Joshua Francis, a paediatric infectious diseases specialist at Royal Darwin Hospital in the Northern Territory, reviewed the guidelines published by the Communicable Diseases Network of Australia and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Infection can be prevented by administration of human rabies immunoglobulin and rabies vaccine.

This treatment is also recommended to people who have had exposure to the saliva of an infected person across mucous membranes or broken skin.

Public and doctor awareness of the dangers of even the smallest contact with bats remained problematic, the authors write.

Public awareness spikes after a publicised case but this falls after time.

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