Hunter New England Health is warning the community not to handle bats to avoid catching a potentially deadly virus.
Coming into summer, bat activity is increasing and eight people in the Hunter New England area have been treated for bat bites or scratches in the past fortnight.
Public Health Physician Dr David Durrheim said bat bites and scratches can result in humans being infected with the Australian Bat Lyssavirus (ABL), which is related to the rabies virus and can be lethal.
"The virus has been found in four species of fruit bats/flying foxes and at least three species of insect eating bats, so all Australian bats, both the larger flying foxes and the small insect eating bats are considered to have the potential to transmit lyssavirus," he said.
Dr Durrheim said three Australians have died as a result of ABL in the past 12 years following bites or scratches from bats.
"Transmission of the virus from bats to humans is thought to be by a scratch or bite, but it is important to note that living, playing or walking near bat roosting areas does not pose a risk of exposure to ABL," Dr Durrheim said.
"Direct contact with a bat is necessary to be infected. The best protection against being exposed to the virus is to avoid handling bats.
"Although members of the community may be tempted to help an ill or trapped bat or flying fox, they should not be handled. Only vaccinated people who have been trained in the care of bats should ever handle bats or flying foxes," Dr Durrheim said.
If bitten or scratched, immediately wash the wound thoroughly with soap and water for at least five minutes.
If available, an antiseptic with anti-virus action such as povidone-iodine, iodine tincture, aqueous iodine solution or alcohol (ethanol) should be applied after washing.
It is important to immediately contact either your GP or the Hunter New England Population Health Unit who will determine whether a series of rabies vaccinations is necessary.