COFFS COAST residents are being warned to stay away from flying foxes to avoid being infected with a deadly disease.
The North Coast Public Health Unit has raised concerns about the number of people ignoring warnings against handling bats and risking exposure to the potentially fatal disease, Australian Bat Lyssavirus.
Around 25 per cent of bats tested after biting or scratching someone in the region have been confirmed as carrying lyssavirus, according to the Unit's director, Paul Corben. "Lyssavirus is a very close relative of the rabies virus and is carried by all four species of Australian fruit bats (flying foxes) and at least three species of insectivorous bat," Mr Corben said.
"The wise assumption is that all bats and flying foxes are infectious, regardless of whether the animal looks sick or not.
"So they should not be handled. Unless you are trained to handle bats, you really are not doing yourself or the animal any favours. by attempting a rescue which could add to the animal's distress and end up with you being injured in the process. "If the bat scratches or bites you, it may need to euthanased in order to find out if it is infected with the lyssavirus."
Mr Corden said if a person infected with this virus does not receive prompt treatment they will almost certainly die from the infection.
"Clearly, avoiding this risk by not handling bats is a much better strategy than taking the chance of contracting a very distressing and ultimately fatal disease, or going through a lengthy course of vaccinations."
In the last two months the Public Health Unit has been advised of 12 incidents involving people being bitten or scratched when attempting to assist a trapped or injured bat. If you need to rescue a bat, call an animal care group listed in your local phone directory.
"It is extremely important that people do not handle bats unless they have the training to do so and have been vaccinated against the potentially lethal virus."
The North Coast's current bat breeding season coincides with the ready availability of fresh fruits such as stone fruits.
"When people find bats caught in fences, power lines or fruit netting, or had some other non-fatal accident, they are often tempted to rescue them. This is highly inadvisable, even if the animal is in need of help. If you need to rescue a bat, call an animal care group listed in your local phone directory."