Beware of the bat

Rabies-like viruses could spread from bats

source: Andy Coghlan
New Scientist January 19 2002 p8

There is concern in Europe about rabies-like viruses, European bat lyssaviruses 1 and 2. These viruses affect serotine bats in particular, and humans can be infected by bat bites, with three deaths recorded over 25 years. There are fears that EBL infections could spread from bats to other animals, though there has been only one recorded outbreak, in Denmark, in 1998, when three sheep died. A bat found in the UK in 1996 was found to be EBL positive. This bat had bitten two people. People should immediately wash wounds if bitten by an animal, as well as seeking medical help.

Normal rabies vaccines are ineffective against EBLs. There have been successful campaigns to eradicate rabies in Western Europe through feeding wild red foxes with bait containing rabies vaccines, and this campaign could be affected. Australia also has rabies-free status, as is the case in most of Europe, but Australian bat lyssavirus, also related to rabies, has affected flying foxes, with at least two human deaths.

Meanwhile, classic rabies continues to be a problem, especially in Africa and Asia, where it is endemic, especially in dogs. There are up to 70,000 deaths of humans from rabies annually in those continents.