Fifteen people have received medical treatment this year after being bitten or scratched by bats within the district.
NSW Health issued a health warning earlier this week to keep clear of bats during the birthing season, which runs during October and November.
“Fifteen people have had post-exposure treatment for bat scratches or bites in the South Eastern Sydney Local Health District this year,” a NSW Health spokesperson said.
Despite it being very rare, bats can carry a serious virus called Australian bat lyssavirus which is related to rabies. If humans are infected, through being bitten or scratched, it can prove fatal.
There have been three cases of Australian bat lyssavirus in humans in Australia – all were in Queensland in 1996, 1998 and 2013 – and all three people died.
“While the majority of bats in Australia do not carry bat lyssavirus, it is sensible to be cautious and assume all are infectious unless tested and cleared.”
Four bats were confirmed with lyssavirus in NSW this year.
There are currently four bat colonies in the Sutherland Shire region with the largest being the colony at Kareela, near Bates Dr. Sutherland Shire Council says this camp fluctuates between 4000 and 16,000 bats.
Meanwhile, there are at least two colonies in the St George region with the largest being the camp in Turrella, near Wolli Creek. Bayside Council says the camp fluctuates but there is about 10,000 bats within the camp.
A Sutherland Shire Council spokesperson said the most common species of bat in the region was the grey-headed flying fox.
“The grey-headed flying fox has been declared a threatened species by the state and federal government.
“Flying foxes play an important role in our ecosystem of long-range seed dispersal and pollination, maintaining the genetic diversity of our forests.”
Despite being a threatened species, the spokesperson said it was important to be cautious around the animals. “Although only one per cent of bats and flying foxes carry ABLV it’s important to exercise caution.”
Plans to disperse the bat colonies at Kareela and Camellia Gardens (Caringbah) have failed in recent years.
Hundreds of thousands of dollars has been pumped into dispersal plans and management of the Kareela colony including over $125,000 from the Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH).
However, OEH suspended the Sutherland Shire Council’s licence to disperse the flying-fox population at Kareela earlier this year because of a food shortage.
Dispersal plans are still ceased at the Kareela colony, the council confirmed.
When a bat is injured or in distress do not try to rescue it. Contact the experts at WIRES on 1300 094 737.
If someone is bitten or scratched by any type of bat they should thoroughly clean the wound with soap and water, apply an antiseptic such as Betadine and seek urgent medical advice.
- Bat colonies in the Sutherland Shire and St George region:
- Turrella: There is a grey-headed flying fox camp at Turrella, near Wolli Creek and the Turrella Train Station. Bayside Council says as a rough estimate there is generally 10,000 bats within this colony. This number fluctuates depending on seasonal influences and availability of food.
- Kareela: The Kareela camp population ranges from 4000 to 16,000, according to Sutherland Shire Council. It is considered a permanent roost and requires active management by council. A dispersal of the Kareela camp has been unsuccessful.
- Camellia Gardens in Caringbah: The Camellia Gardens camp population ranges from 1000 to 2000 flying foxes, according to Sutherland Shire Council. It is considered a permanent roost and requires active management by council. A dispersal of the Camellia Gardens camp in 2016 was unsuccessful.
- Captain Cook Dr (near Greenhills Beach): This camp is occupied infrequently with numbers generally less than 1000 bats, according to Sutherland Shire Council. It was discovered in February 2017.
- Kurnell Desalination Plant: This camp is occupied infrequently with numbers generally less than 1000 bats, according to Sutherland Shire Council. It was heavily occupied until 2006/07 when the desalination plant was constructed and the flying foxes moved to the Kareela reserve and formed the Kareela camp.
- Myles Dunphy Reserve near Oatley: Oatley Flora and Fauna Conservation Society reported a healthy camp there earlier this year. Georges River Council did not supply any information on this camp.