Bat Health

Australia has a rich diversity of bat species, including the larger flying-foxes and smaller insectivorous bats. Flying-foxes, which feed on nectar, pollen, flowers and fruit, are important for the ecosystem as they are long-distance pollinators and seed dispersers for forest trees and plants. Insectivorous bats are beneficial to agriculture and human health through their control of insect pests.

Australian bats are threatened by a range of processes including habitat destruction and fragmentation, and several species are listed as threatened. These processes have contributed to the urbanisation of flying-foxes, which increases the interactions with humans, leading to conflict, persecution and the risk of injury to bats (e.g. fruit tree netting entanglements), as well as an increased risk to humans of zoonotic diseases. Insectivorous bats are potentially at risk from an exotic disease, white-nose syndrome, which has caused devastating population losses in cave-dwelling bats in North America. The disease hasn’t been found in Australia, but could be introduced into the country through contaminated clothing or equipment.

Bats around the world are hosts to a number of zoonotic diseases. In Australia these include Australian bat lyssavirus (direct transmission) and Hendra virus (transmission to humans via horses). It is important that members of the public do not handle bats, and instead if they find a sick or injured bat, to contact a wildlife rescue/rehabilitation organisation or local veterinarian. People who are trained in handling bats should be vaccinated and always use appropriate protection when interacting with bats.

Resources on this page provide information about diseases that are zoonotic or with potential impact on bats and biodiversity, as well as guidance on a range of issues relating to bat health and human interaction.

Click here for information on the WHA Bat Health Focus Group. 

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Wildlife Health Australia collates recent media articles and publications relating to bat health into a monthly
‘Bat News’ email. If you would like to receive it, please contact WHA.

Flying-fox Mass Mortality & Morbidity Events

Flying-fox Mass Mortality & Morbidity Event Report Form

In some years there are reports of increased numbers of sick, dead or orphaned flying-foxes. These events may occur in one camp, multiple camps in one region, or across larger areas. This form is to collect information to help determine the extent and nature of these events.

Flying-fox Paralysis Syndrome

Since December 2020, unusual clusters of flaccid paralysis have been identified in flying-foxes in South East Queensland and North East NSW. For further information on this on-going incident including the document Flying-fox Paralysis Syndrome (FFPS): Interim case definition, sample collection & treatment advice  see FFPS Incident Information.

COVID-19 and Bats

Wildlife Health Australia, in collaboration with government and non-government stakeholders, is continually assessing information on the COVID-19 situation. A risk assessment was conducted to assess the likelihood of SARS-CoV-2 establishing in an Australian bat population following human-to-bat transmission, and the resulting consequences:

Quantitative Risk Assessment – COVID-19 & Australian Bats (August 2020)

Publication: Cox-Witton K et al (2021). Risk of SARS-CoV-2 transmission from humans to bats – An Australian assessment. One Health, 13, 100247

For more information and guidance, see WHA's COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2 virus) Fact Sheet and COVID-19 and Australian wildlife: Biosecurity information for people working or interacting with wildlife.

As this is a dynamic situation, we will continue to assess new information within the Australian context, and update these documents accordingly.

PPE Information for Bat Handlers

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) Information for Bat Handlers

This document provides information on personal protective equipment (PPE) aimed at preventing the transmission of ABLV and other bat-borne pathogens through bat bites and scratches, or via contact with infected urine, faeces, saliva or aerosols. It is intended to provide information for vaccinated bat rehabilitators, researchers, ecologists, veterinarians and associated workers. Use of appropriate PPE will also help prevent disease transmission from the person to the bat.

Flying-Fox Translocation and Transport Guidelines

Flying-fox translocation and transport guidelines

Temporary or permanent movement of wildlife can be a useful welfare and conservation management tool. This document is intended to assist any personnel involved in planning, facilitating, or regulating transport and/or translocation of flying-foxes. A decision flow diagram is provided for use in planning, risk assessment and risk management of this process.

Australian Bat Lyssavirus Reports

ABLV Bat Stats is a six-monthly report prepared by the WHA Bat Health Focus Group presenting information on Australian bat lyssavirus testing in bats across Australia.

Publication: Iglesias R et al., (2021). Australian bat lyssavirus: analysis of national bat surveillance data from 2010 to 2016. Viruses, 13(2), 189 

Public Health Communication Guide for Government Media Teams

Flying-foxes and Microbats: A Public Health Communication Guide for Government Media Teams

This guide aims to assist Government agencies to engage with media outlets, and to prepare media releases and other public communication on public health issues relating to Australian bats.

White-Nose Syndrome

White-nose syndrome (WNS) is a fungal disease that has caused significant declines in insectivorous bat populations in North America. WNS has not been identified in Australia. For more information on this disease, see the WHA White-nose Syndrome Fact Sheet (Exotic).

WNS is nationally notifiable. If you suspect or can confirm that a bat is showing symptoms of WNS, you must report it to your local vet OR your state or territory's department of primary industries or agriculture by calling the Emergency Animal Disease Watch Hotline on 1800 675 888.

How to report a suspect case of white-nose syndrome - This document provides information on white-nose syndrome for people in Australia who come into contact with microbats e.g. bat/wildlife carers, ecologists and other researchers and students, cavers, cave managers, park rangers and members of the public.

National guidelines for sample submission - White-nose syndrome - Exclusion testing - This document provides a framework to assist veterinarians with the appropriate collection and submission of samples to facilitate the exclusion of white-nose syndrome in Australia.

Biosecurity Guidelines for bat research in caves in Australia  - This document provides guidance on minimising the risk of spread of disease by bat researchers conducting activities in caves. These guidelines focus on bat research in caves, but many of the recommendations also apply to other activities in caves, and bat research in other situations.

White-nose syndrome - Protecting Australian bats - This is an update on current activities to reduce the risk of introduction of WNS into Australia, and to better prepare Australia in case the disease were to be found here.

Qualitative risk assessment: White-nose syndrome in bats in Australia - Wildlife Health Australia, with funding from the Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment commissioned a disease risk assessment for the potential introduction of white-nose syndrome to Australia. This report was prepared by a team of experts led through the University of Melbourne in collaboration with the South Australian Museum, DELWP (Arthur Rylah Institute) Victoria and the University of Adelaide. Publication: Holz P et al (2019). Does the fungus causing white-nose syndrome pose a significant risk to Australian bats? Wildlife Research, 46(8), 657-68

White-nose Syndrome Response Guidelines - These guidelines have been developed by Wildlife Health Australia in consultation with stakeholder groups, to assist response agencies in the event of an incursion of the exotic disease white-nose syndrome into bats in Australia.

White-nose Syndrome Response Guidelines Workshop - Summary - Wildlife Health Australia and Animal Health Australia ran a workshop in October 2016 to discuss response options for a possible incursion of the exotic disease white-nose syndrome into bats in Australia.

Hendra Virus Testing of Flying Foxes

The Bat Health Focus Group has prepared an information document with advice regarding testing of individual flying foxes for Hendra virus. It covers current knowledge, available tests and their limitations, and challenges with interpretation of results. 

Hendra Virus Testing in Individual Flying Foxes at Necropsy - Information Document

For more information on HeV, see the WHA Hendra virus and Australian Wildlife Fact Sheet

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