Providing practical information to help you protect your farm from biosecurity risks

Protection against Australian bat lyssavirus

May 24, 2013

Photo: CSIRO

Biosecurity Queensland has quarantined a property in the Southern Downs area after a horse tested positive to Australian bat lyssavirus (ABLV). Australia is the only country where this form of lyssavirus has been reported and it is considered to be present in all populations of Australian bats; however this is the first known case of ABLV infection in an Australian horse.

ABLV is zoonotic which means it can be transmitted from animals to humans. Unfortunately, the three Australians who are known to have contracted the virus have all died from this disease. As there is currently no specific treatment for ABVL, for either people or horses, it is important to follow a number of straightforward biosecurity measures.

For people

Avoid contact with bats wherever possible – a bite, scratch or exposure to bat saliva is particularly dangerous. Queensland Health* further advises that only people who have been vaccinated against rabies should handle bats and preferably those that have been trained in, or have experience with handling bats.

Any person who has been scratched or bitten by a bat should wash the wound thoroughly with soap and water for at least five minutes. If available, apply an antiseptic such as iodine or alcohol (ethanol) after washing and seek urgent medical advice.  If bat saliva comes into contact with the eyes, nose or mouth, flush the area thoroughly with water and seek urgent medical advice.

It is also important to ensure sound hygiene and biosecurity measures are routinely adopted for all contact with horses including their saliva, blood, other body fluids and associated equipment. Avoid close contact with a sick horse where possible. If it is unavoidable, consider the horse’s blood and body fluids as potentially infectious and take precautions to prevent contact with these including:

  • using personal protective equipment (PPE) to protect your clothing, exposed skin and face from contact with the horse’s blood and body fluids
  • training workers and yourself in how to use unfamiliar PPE, such as particulate respirators
  • covering cuts and abrasions with a water-resistant dressing
  • arranging your activities so that you have contact with the sick horse last
  • following instructions for biosecurity and personal safety provided by an appropriately qualified government officer or a veterinarian.

Seek urgent medical advice or ring your local health authority if you or a worker has had contact with a horse suspected or confirmed as being infected with ABVL.

For horses

Horse owners are advised to take all reasonable steps to keep their animals away from bats, and always consider infection with ABLV or Hendra virus as a possible cause of illness in a horse.

If you have a sick horse, isolate it from other horses, people and animals (e.g. remove companion animals to another area) until you have obtained a veterinary opinion. Do not move the sick horse off the property. If it is not at home, do not return home but isolate it on the property it is located.

Notify suspected cases by calling the Emergency Animal Disease Watch Hotline on 1800 675 888. There is a legal obligation to notify authorities of suspected cases.

The best protection against horse diseases and pests is to have a biosecurity plan in place for your property or venue. Whether you own just one horse or manage a racing complex holding hundreds, the Horse Venue Biosecurity Workbook will help you design and implement measures appropriate for your property.


* The information in this article was compiled using Queensland Government sources.