Sick of the bats

By Adrian Miller

Iluka residents have not only had to deal with the noise and stench of a flying fox colony in their midst, they now have to contend with the fact the bats might pose a significant health risk.

After three separate incidents of people in the Northern Rivers being bitten by bats, the public is being warned about the potentially fatal virus the animals are known to carry.

North Coast Public Health Unit director Greg Bell said the lyssavirus had previously been found in bats which nest in the Northern Rivers.

"We have tested bats in the Northern Rivers and we do find from time to time a bat that is positive for lyssavirus," he said.

"Lyssavirus is in the same family as rabies and it's a very serious disease. In the 1990s we had two people in Queensland who contracted lyssavirus and passed away."

Iluka resident Betty Bogdanek, who lives four houses away from the Iluka colony, said residents had always been worried about the health risks. "That's what we are worried about more than anything else, because ... you've always got that (health risks) in the back of your mind," she said. "You never relax about it, you're always hoping there's no damage being done, but every time you smell that stench you think 'what's in that air'."

Mr Bell said because of the recent bites, he was urging residents to avoid coming into contact with the bats.

"What we're trying to say is bats are a wild animal, don't think they are cute and cuddly," he said. "They need to be handled by someone like WIRES, or someone trained in their removal."

Mrs Bogdanek said Clarence Valley Council should take responsibility and remove the bats from Iluka.

"When it becomes a health hazard I really think they should be allowed to move them on, and there are so many humane ways they can do it," she said.

Mr Bell said if people were bitten by a bat to thoroughly wash the wound immediately, apply antiseptic and see their doctor.

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