Australian bat lyssavirus (ABLV)

Page last updated: Monday, 6 July 2020 - 4:28pm

Please note: This content may be out of date and is currently under review.

Australian bat lyssavirus (ABLV) is a virus that infects Australian flying foxes (fruit bats) and microbats. The virus can be transmitted from bats to humans and horses, and potentially from bats to other animals, causing fatal encephalitis (inflammation of the brain). Bats infected with ABLV may show neurological signs such as paralysis, weakness, tremors, seizures and abnormal behaviour.

Australian bat lyssavirus (ABLV) is a reportable disease

Australian bat lyssavirus (ABLV) is a reportable animal disease under the Biosecurity and Agriculture Management Act 2007. If you suspect a bat or other animal is showing signs of ABLV or you are aware an animal has been bitten or scratched by a bat confirmed to have ABLV, you must report this immediately to the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development.

To report suspicion of Australian bat lyssavirus, contact:

Australian bat lyssavirus (ABLV) is a zoonotic disease

Bats infected with ABLV that bite or scratch people can infect them with the virus. There is also potential for transmission by absorbing infected bat saliva through the eyes, nose or mouth. The virus is fatal if not promptly treated after potential exposure.

For more information about ABLV in humans, visit the Department of Health website.

What is Australian bat lyssavirus (ABLV)?

ABLV is a virus that is closely related, but different, to classical rabies virus. The genus Lyssavirus (‘lyssa’ meaning rage) has 14 different genotypes, which includes rabies virus and ABLV. Each of these viruses is capable of causing rabies-like disease in animals and humans. Classical rabies virus is not present in Australia.

ABLV was first detected in Australia in a black flying fox in 1996. Since then the virus has been isolated in bats in New South Wales, the Northern Territory, Queensland, Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia.

ABLV infection has been found in the four common species of flying foxes (Pteropus sp.), in one blossom bat (Syconycteris australis) and in one microbat, an insectivorous yellow-bellied sheathtail bat (Saccolaimus flaviventris). It appears that bats are the only reservoir host for ABLV.

While 2004 research indicates that ABLV is present in less than 1% of free-living bats, ABLV is more likely to be detected in sick, injured or orphaned bats. However, some infected bats do not show any signs of ill-health so it should be assumed that all bats are potential hosts of ABLV.

How is Australian bat lyssavirus transmitted?

ABLV can be transmitted by bites and scratches from infected bats. There is also potential for transmission by absorbing infected bat saliva through the eyes, nose and mouth.

The virus is unlikely to survive outside the bat for more than a few hours. There is no known risk of contracting ABLV from bats flying overhead. Viable Australian bat lyssavirus has not been found in bat faeces or urine.

Signs of infection in bats

The disease signs that may indicate that a bat has ABLV infection are:

  • abnormal behaviour (such as not in normal roosts during the day)
  • excitation, agitation and aggression
  • paralysis
  • unusual vocalisation
  • fighting with other bats
  • inability to fly
  • loss of body condition
  • convulsions/seizures/tremors.

Note that apparently healthy bats with normal behaviours may still be infected with ABLV.

Australian bat lyssavirus can infect horses and may infect other animals

In May 2013, two horses in Queensland died as a result of being infected with ABLV. These are the first recorded cases of ABLV in an animal other than a bat.

In WA, there have been no confirmed cases of ABLV infection in any domestic animals, including horses. ABLV has been diagnosed in some flying foxes submitted to the Department's laboratory as part of ongoing animal health surveillance activities.

Domestic animals, including horses, dogs and other pets may be exposed to ABLV through contact with bats. If an animal has been bitten or scratched by a bat confirmed to have ABLV, this must be notified to a Department Field Veterinary Officer.

Wherever possible, prevent pets, horses and other animals from coming into contact with bats. This includes keeping pets and horses away from where bats are feeding on fruiting or flowering trees or roosting and covering animals’ feed and water troughs. See the Hendra virus webpage for more information.

Contact information

Hennie Swanepoel
+61 (0)8 9368 3076