Rabies is a fatal disease which is spread by the bite of an infected animal. The bite must break the skin for the virus to enter the system, but even saliva on existing cuts and mucous membranes can be a risk. The incubation period is normally 20-90 days, and death results usually after about 14 days thereafter.
Scientists have identified twelve strains, or serotypes, ‘rabies-like’ viruses (called lyssaviruses), certain of which may, very rarely, be harboured by bats: In southern Africa, ‘typical’ rabies (serotype 1) is carried by dogs and cats but has never been detected in bats. Two lyssaviruses, Lagos virus and Duvenhage virus, have been isolated from bats in South Africa. Only three cases of Duvenhage bat virus in humans have been reported, none of Lagos. In the past two years, two human deaths in Australia have resulted from the newly discovered Australian bat lyssavirus. In both cases, the victims were persons involved in the rehabilitation of flying foxes. Scientists believe this lyssavirus has probably been circulating in that bat population at a very low level for thousands of years. Safety guidelines:1) Don’t handle bats, or any wild mammals unless you have to2) Wear gloves, or handle bats with a towel, to prevent getting bitten3) Make sure to get inoculated with the rabies pre-exposure vaccine if you are going to be handling any wild mammals4) Soap and iodine may inactivate the rabies virus; use them liberally on any bites or scratches5) Be prepared to have any mammal that bites a person put down and tested. Contact the Onderstepoort Veterinary Institute near Pretoria, or your nearest government or municipal health department.Tel: (012) 5299440 Fax: (012) 5299390