Health and handling

Human infections from viruses borne by flying-foxes are very rare. There is no risk of infection if you do not make physical contact with a flying-fox.

There are no reports of people living close to flying-fox camps contracting diseases.

For more information about flying-foxes and health visit NSW Health Flying-fox Fact Sheet.

There is no evidence that people can catch Hendra virus directly from flying-foxes. It is believed that horses catch the Hendra virus when they eat food which has recently been contaminated with an infected flying-fox's urine, saliva or birth products.

Hendra virus can be transmitted from infected horses to humans following close contact with body fluids, like blood and saliva from infected horses.

There have been a small number of confirmed cases of Hendra virus in humans, all in Queensland.

Visit NSW Health for detailed advice for managing human health risks from Hendra virus.

Visit NSW Department of Primary Industries for detailed advice about managing equine health risks from Hendra virus.

Australian bat lyssavirus is found in the saliva of infected animals. The virus can only be spread to other animals and people through the bite or scratch of a flying-fox. Australian bat lyssavirus is not spread through flying fox urine or droppings.

In Australia at December 2019, there have been 3 confirmed cases of Australian Bat Lyssavirus in humans. All were in Queensland.

Visit NSW Health for detailed advice about managing the health risks of Australian Bat Lyssavirus.

Scratched or bitten by a flying-fox?

If you are bitten or scratched by a flying-fox, the wound should be immediately be washed gently, but thoroughly, with soap and water for at least 5 minutes. An antiseptic, such as povidone-iodine should be applied, and a doctor consulted as soon as possible.

What should you do if you find an injured, sick or orphaned flying-fox?

Do not handle flying-foxes unless you have been vaccinated against Australian bat lyssavirus, been trained and use the proper protective equipment.

NSW Health advises that the public should avoid direct contact with flying-foxes. There is always the possibility of a scratch or bite leading to infection.

If you find an injured, sick or orphaned flying-fox, contact a licensed wildlife rescue and rehabilitation provider or use the IFAW Wildlife Rescue App to quickly find the closest licensed carer to contact. 

What should you do if you find a dead flying-fox?

Don't touch or pick up dead flying-foxes with your bare hands.

If there is no direct handling or contact with flying-foxes, the risk of disease transmission is negligible. If you find a dead flying-fox in a public area (e.g. on a road or in a park), call your local council and ask them to dispose of it.

If you can't get help and must handle a dead flying-fox:

  • wear thick gloves (e.g. gardening gloves) and use a shovel where possible
  • wrap the carcass in at least two plastic bags before disposing of it
  • wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water afterwards

If carcasses are buried, they should be buried at a minimum depth of 15cm to avoid scavengers digging them up.

If you have any concerns or questions about disposing of dead flying-foxes, contact your local council for advice. In some situations, wildlife rehabilitation groups might also be able to give advice, or help if they have resources available.

Any dead banded flying-foxes should be reported to the Australian Bird and Bat Banding Scheme. If you find a banded flying-fox, don’t try to read or remove the band yourself. Instead, call your local licensed wildlife rescue and rehabilitation provider.