THEY may look cute, but flying foxes roosting in Warrnambool’s Botanic Gardens can be potentially fatal, as Bushfield resident Bill Morris found out on Sunday.
He was scratched on the back of his hand while trying to free one of the creatures, commonly called bats, which was entangled in netting around his trees.
On contacting Wildlife Victoria he was advised to seek medical attention because of the risk of contracting lyssavirus or rabies, but had to wait about 10 hours and drive to Geelong to receive protective vaccine which is in worldwide shortage.
He is required to have several follow-up doses.
“I took precaution by wearing gloves while trying to free the bat, but it flapped around and a claw on its wing caused a one-centimetre cut across a vein on my hand,” he told The Standard yesterday. “I’m advising people not to touch the bats.”
The Health Department and Wildlife Victoria yesterday advised people concerned about the welfare of wild animals to seek expert assistance.
“We have volunteers inoculated against Australian bat lyssavirus and they are the only people authorised to handle these animals,” Wildlife Victoria relationship manager Amy Amato told The Standard.
“Under no circumstances should a member of the public handle or touch any bat, flying foxes, or even the smaller microbats. The same advice goes for deceased animals.”
The Health Department said the Australian-approved rabies immunoglobulin (Rig) was in short supply globally and an alternative product, KamRAB, was being administered to patients if they gave informed consent.
“All lyssaviruses cause a similar illness to classic rabies, which affects the central nervous system and is usually fatal,” a department spokesman said.
“If potentially exposed to rabies or ABLV it is extremely important that appropriate treatment starts immediately. Incorrect or incomplete treatment will not prevent infection.”
Mr Morris said he appreciated support from Warrnambool Base Hospital staff who searched in vain for the appropriate vaccine before he travelled to Geelong Base Hospital where he had to sign a waiver for the imported product.
As for the flying fox, a local animal handler freed it and took it to a vet clinic.
Ms Amato said while there were health risks, the flying foxes played a vital role in nature by pollinating as they fed and dispersing up to 60,000 seeds a night and should be admired for their work.
“Unfortunately fruit tree netting can be a killer for bats and other wildlife. Shade cloth or fruit bags are much better options,” she said.