Bat Lyssavirus Test Aims to Speed Up Response Times

A rapid test for Australian bat lyssavirus—now being conducted at the New South Wales (NSW) Department of Primary Industries’ (DPI) Elizabeth Macarthur Agricultural Institute (EMAI)—is helping to speed up response times for those at risk of contact with the potentially deadly virus.

“In the last year, there have been four positive cases in NSW of lyssavirus in bats, a disease capable of transferring to horses and people,” said Jef Hammond, PhD, DPI Director of the Centre for Animal and Plant Biosecurity.

The first confirmed case of Australian bat lyssavirus in a horse was reported in May 2013 in Queensland, Australia. That horse was euthanized. 

“In many of these cases, people are waiting anxiously to hear the results because they may have been in contact with the submitted bat," Hammond explained. “The sooner the health authorities can be informed about any positive test results, the sooner they can address the potential human health risks.”

Hammond said the rapid test at EMAI ensures results are now available within 24 hours, compared to two or three days previously.

Australian bat lyssavirus is a deadly virus that affects the nervous system of bats. It is estimated that 1% of bats in Australia are infected but the incidence of infection is much higher in bats that are found injured or sick. The virus is spread in the saliva of infected bats and infection occurs when virus in saliva enters the body through breaks in the skin such as bites and scratches. Infection in people and horses is very rare but because of the serious consequences it is extremely important for people to avoid handling live or dead bats.

Hammond advised the public:

  • Do not attempt to touch or handle a live or dead bat;
  • Only trained, vaccinated bat handlers should attempt to catch injured or sick bats;
  • If you think you have been exposed to a suspect bat, immediately contact your doctor; and
  • If you suspect a bat or any other animal is infected call the emergency animal disease hotline. Australian bat lyssavirus is a notifiable disease.

Detailed information and advice on Australian bat lyssavirus is available at DPI online and

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