I was very concerned recently to learn that a Queensland bat sanctuary/facility was actively encouraging visitors, including children to handle their resident bats. The reason for my concern is that bats may harbor Lyssavirus, which causes a rabies like illness and is deadly to humans. It is because of this that the Queensland government recommends that members of the public avoid handling any bat or flying fox. No known case of human Lyssavirus has arisen from this bat facility however the story highlights the potential risk that travelers may indadvertedly take, and parents place their children in when seeking wildlife exposure experiences.
In Australia, bats are the exception when it comes to infection risk from local wildlife. Many parks and zoos offer wildlife experiences for visiting tourists, and handling or petting koalas, kangaroos and wallabies in these settings is safe. Outside of Australia the risk posed to travelers by animals may be higher.
Young children are more likely to be bitten by animals than adults. My own two year old deliberately places his hand in every dog’s mouth that we meet. The possible risks that animal bites pose to children include among other things: trauma and bleeding, envenomation, bacterial infection and rabies.
Particular caution needs to be heeded in relation to rabies infection. Wild and domestic animals in much of the world outside of Australia may harbour the rabies virus. Dogs, monkeys, bats and squirrels are all potential hosts of rabies infection. Rabies vaccination is recommended for children and adults who will be staying for one month or more in areas where rabies is present.
The most important thing that parents can do to prevent injury or infection to their children from animals when travelling is to forbid all contact with domestic and wild animals.
If any animal bite or scratch does occur first aid should be administered. This includes:
-Immediate washing and flushing of the affected area with soap and water, detergent or water alone (if that is all that is available)
-Apply either ethanol (700 ml/l) or aqueous solution of iodine if either of these are available.
All family members who are bitten by an animal should be seen by a medical doctor immediately. If there is a risk of rabies exposure the doctor may administer further treatment (even to those who have been vaccinated).
Rules to minimise harm from animals to children when traveling
- Visit your doctor 6-8 weeks before you travel to discover whether any of your family members requires tetanus or rabies vaccination.
- Do not allow contact between your children and domestic or wild animals when outside of Australia.
- There are tourist parks which facilitate handling of monkeys. Do not ever allow your children to handle monkeys even in one of these parks.
Those of you that would like more information on Lyssavirus should head to the Queensland Health website
© Copyright 2012 Danielle, All rights Reserved. Written For: Bubs on the Move