Bat Lyssavirus Could Pose Threat to Humans, Animals

Bat Lyssavirus Could Pose Threat to Humans, Animals

ABLV had previously only been detected in bats and humans and, until 2013, Australia had been considered free from these types of viruses in domestic and feral animals including horses.

The confirmation of the first two cases of Australian bat lyssavirus (ABLV) in horses last year has highlighted the need for greater awareness of the disease in all domestic animals.

A rabies-like virus, ABLV had previously only been detected in bats and humans and, until 2013, Australia had been considered free from these types of viruses in domestic and feral animals including horses.

Two veterinarians, who have studied the two cases in-depth, recently published a paper on their findings.

The authors want horses and other domestic animals that present with progressive neurologic disease or signs reflecting diffuse neurologic dysfunction to be tested for ABLV so that appropriate post-exposure and treatment assessment can take place. Testing will also provide a greater understanding of the disease’s prevalence in Australia, the authors say.

Study authors Ed Annand, BVSc (Hons), MRCVS, and Peter Reid, BVSc, said the two cases demonstrate that ABLV can infect domestic animals: “This possibility had previously been acknowledged but never before confirmed.”

“ABLV presents a significant zoonotic risk and, as with other lyssaviruses worldwide, under- diagnosis is likely," the team said. “In the past, people have become infected with the deadly lyssavirus by being scratched or bitten by a flying fox or micro-bat, but the spillover to horses reported in our paper indicates that animals other than bats can pose potential human health threats. Further neurological disease surveillance would be beneficial to increase our understanding and identification of the disease’s zoonotic risk.

“There are two recognized variants of Australian bat lyssavirus which are genetically very similar to the rabies virus and cause a disease clinically indistinguishable from rabies in humans and horses,” they said.

The Australian Veterinary Association recommends that veterinarians and wildlife careers in contact with bats should be vaccinated against rabies. Vets should also practice good personal biosecurity when attending sick horses.

The study, "Clinical review of two fatal equine cases of infection with the insectivorous bat strain of Australian bat lyssavirus," was published in the Australian Veterinary Journal

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