Extra powers to tackle deadly bat virus in Australia

2014-10-23 18:00

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Sydney - An Australian state is set to unveil tougher measures to tackle bats after three flying foxes were found to be carrying the deadly lyssavirus, officials said on Thursday.

The New South Wales government fears transmission of the potentially fatal Australian bat lyssavirus (ABLV) to humans and the state's health department has issued a warning to residents not to approach the bats.

"So far this year we have had three people who were bitten or scratched by bats that were later confirmed to have had the potentially deadly lyssavirus," NSW Health's communicable diseases director Vicky Sheppeard said in a statement.

"Lyssavirus infection can result in a rabies-like illness which is very serious and, if not prevented, is fatal."

Three people in Australia have died from the bat-borne virus, which has no effective treatment. The last victim was eight-year-old Lincoln Flynn, who died in early 2013 after being scratched by a bat in Queensland the previous November.

"Shoot-to-kill policy"

Sheppeard said the bat birthing season in October and November meant people might pick up or try to rescue young and miscarried pups that could be on the ground.

The Daily Telegraph newspaper said the changes would usher in a controversial "shoot-to-kill" policy as well as give local councils more powers to uproot bat colonies.

Officials baulked at that label but the NSW Environment Minister Rob Stokes said in a statement to AFP a shooting licence could be issued "where it is the only practical solution", for example to fruit farmers.

"Protection of human health is always our first principle," he said. "We're ensuring councils will be able to receive approval for five years to do what it takes to protect their communities."

The government would also provide orchard owners Aus$4m to protect fruit crops from flying foxes, the minister added.

Rural areas

Thousands of large bats fill the skies particularly at dusk in Australian cities including Sydney as well as more rural areas.

The Australian Veterinary Association criticised the new policy, saying it would not remove the risk of bat-borne diseases.

"It's like moving a crying baby from one room to another. The same issues just happen somewhere else," the association's spokesperson Robert Johnson said.

"The best way people can protect themselves from bat-borne diseases is to stay away from flying fox colonies."

Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt said in a statement that he was working with the three states of NSW, Queensland and Victoria, where grey-headed flying foxes - which are classified as vulnerable - were present, on how to manage the colonies.

Read more on:    australia  |  environment

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