BAT Disease Kills horses

The Department of Primary Industry and Resources (DPIR) together with the Federal Department of Agriculture and Water Resources held a very successful Emergency Animal Disease workshop for veterinarians at the Arid Zone Research Institute in April. This one day workshop provided the opportunity for 14 veterinarians to enhance their knowledge and skills in emergency disease recognition and investigation.

Dr Ed Annand from Sydney University presented an interesting case of Australian Bat Lyssavirus (ABLV), or bat rabies, in two horses that progressed to death in 54 hours, even though testing for Hendra virus (HeV) was negative. These two diseases are believed to represent a significant risk in the Northern Territory (NT). Dr Annand’s message to Central Australian horse owners and vets was:

  • We are surrounded by flying fox and micro bats in the NT, including Central Australia.  There are 65 species of micro bat in Australia – it is just a matter of time before further ABLV/bat rabies cases are seen.
  • Horses with bat rabies may present with a wide range of clinical signs such as lameness, mild skin sensitivity, abdominal pain, loss of control of body movements, and intermittent behavioural changes.
  • Vets need to consider ABLV as an alternative diagnosis for HeV negative animals.
  • It is of value to take blood and nasal swabs early in a case, especially in remote areas, for future diagnosis. The Department will be distributing sampling kits to all properties in the coming months.
  • In a dead horse, neck skin biopsies of hair follicles and their associated nerves can be examined for diagnosis.

Not only fatal to horses, to date there have been three fatal ABLV human cases in Australia, all of which have involved direct contact with a bat.  ABLV should be considered in all domestic animals displaying progressive neurological signs in Australia. If you work with horses on your property, it is important to adopt good personal hygiene.

Last updated: 30 April 2020

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